Mexican Wolf Depredation: 100 Wolves = 538 Dead Cattle
Current trends indicate that for every 100 wolves on the landscape within Mexican wolf range, there are 105.5 head of dead cattle as confirmed wolf kills. That’s according to data from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).
Back in 2000, the minimum Mexican wolf count was 22 animals, which were responsible for 1 confirmed cattle death in wolf range in Arizona and New Mexico. But as the wolf population grew, so did the number of dead livestock, with the 163-head wolf population responsible for killing 172 cattle in 2019, or 105.5 cattle for every 100 wolves. But that’s only the confirmed kills.
When FWS factored in the unconfirmed kills (at a rate of 4.1 unconfirmed cattle killed for every confirmed kill), the total was 538 dead cattle per 100 wolves.
Annual Depredations per Mexican Wolf Confirmed Cattle Kills
The livestock loss calculations were included in a recently released draft supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS) that assesses the FWS strategy to nearly double the existing Mexican wolf population at least 320 animals. The federal agency issued the EIS to comply with a 2018 court ruling that it must ensure the long-term conservation and recovery of the Mexican wolf population. That lawsuit was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity.
FWS estimated the economic impact of Mexican wolves to cattle ranching operations was $6,281 per wolf in 2019, but was only $2,034 when averaged over the last 20 years.
A compensation fund for losses only paid out about one-quarter of the total losses (confirmed and unconfirmed) since 1998, according to FWS. With more than $1 million in estimated losses in 2019, the compensation program paid out just under $290,000, leaving nearly $734,000 in uncompensated losses in just 2019.
Economics of Scale
FWS notes that the economic impact of Mexican wolf depredations is “very minor” in terms of the entire Arizona and New Mexico livestock industry, but “the impact on ranches affected by depredations and/or stress can be much larger in terms of the profitability of their operations.”
Thus, “a larger population of Mexican wolves would be expected to result in a commensurate increase in economic impacts on the ranching community.”
FWS noted, “In 2019, the year with the highest number of confirmed and unconfirmed cattle depredations, the market value impact of $960,243 is minimal at the macro-level.
“However, the economic impact of depredations and the broader costs associated with the presence of Mexican wolves in the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area on ranching operations is considerably different at the scale of an individual ranch, particularly for small and medium-sized ranches. Based on our model ranch assumptions, small and medium-sized ranches may have only an additional 15-47 cattle to sell for profit above their break-even point, which makes the loss of one or several animals a potentially significant loss.”
Most of the cattle sales in Arizona are from large ranches with more than 5,000 head, but the majority of ranches are small ranches (over 85% of ranches in Arizona have a herd size of fewer than 50 cattle). In New Mexico, sales are more evenly distributed from ranches with herd sizes ranging from 200 cattle to over 5,000, but most of the ranch operations in the state (77%) are small. FWS reported that although medium or large ranch operations are driving the economic activity of ranching in both states, there are many small ranches “for which the economic impacts from Mexican wolves may be difficult to sustain.”
Restricted Lethal Take
Although Mexican wolves were confirmed as killing 172 cattle in 2019, there was only one wolf that was permanently removed from the population that year. Twelve others were temporarily removed, and 6 wolves were translocated. During the last 20 years, only 39 Mexican wolves were permanently removed from the population, despite the 650 confirmed livestock losses due to wolves during the same period.
FWS now proposes to further restrict wolf take provisions in Mexican wolf range, stating, “We have proposed to temporarily restrict take on federal land and non-federal land until we reach our proposed genetic objective, which we expect to achieve by around 2030.”
Illegal killing is the largest source of documented Mexican wolf mortality, but the wolf population has almost doubled in size over the last five years.
FWS acknowledges that an increase in the Mexican wolf population may lead to more depredations and associated economic impacts. Using the 20-year annual average economic impact of $2,034 per wolf (rather than the most recent annual assessment that was three times higher), the additional economic impacts would be $50,000-$200,000 per year. “These impacts will be experienced directly by the individual ranching operations that suffer depredations,” according to the EIS.
Mexican Wolf Population Estimate, Reproduction, and Pup Recruitment