With the price of cattle up, a live calf in the fall is close to $1,000. There doesn’t appear to be buyers for the dead ones, so per head fee that is a self imposed tax for a County Cattle Petition is hard to beat for the service you get. In the last few years, with federal funding for USDA Wildlife Services declining the cattle ranchers of many counties are starting to understand the value of having a County Cattle Petition.
With the money collected through the Cattle Petition, USDA, Wildlife Services is able to use helicopters they lease from the Board of Livestock for aerial control of predators. Flying for coyotes is one of the most effective ways of reducing the population in an area.
In 2011, coyotes killed 9,800 ewes and lambs in Montana, which adds up to a loss of $1.4 million. Sheep losses to all predators such as bears, wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, and eagles totaled 13,600 sheep. Coyotes are also hard on calves in the spring. In Montana, coyotes killed 497 calves in 2011 and 345 calves in 2012.
Montana State Law or Montana Code Annotated (MCA) provides for county commissioners with the recommendation of an organized association of cattle producers in the county to establish a predatory animal control program for the protection of cattle in their county, or counties may combine. With a petition signed by county residents owning at least 51 percent of the cattle in the county as shown on the property tax records, the commissioners are allowed to collect an annual per capita (per head of cattle) to help fund the predator control program.
This process is initiated by the cattle or sheep producers of a county who wish to reduce livestock losses to coyotes, wolves, red fox, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions, and so on. These cattle petition funds are collected from all cattle owners in counties with a cattle petition by the county.
One hundred percent of the funds are utilized by USDA Wildlife Services for predator damage management in the county from where they were collected. The funds are used for aerial hunting in the county and to support the government trapper in the county. There are currently 24 counties with cattle petitions. There are also 49 counties with sheep petitions.
Though based on the same number of livestock that livestock producers report to the local Department of Revenue Property Assessment office, they are not used the same as the livestock per capita fee we pay to the State Department of Revenue (DOR) who collects the livestock per capita fees for the Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL). The per capita fee paid to the DOR for the MDOL are used for programs to monitor animal health, monitor and restrict livestock imports, track animal movements, prevent and investigate livestock theft, and manage predators.
The MDOL also receives revenue from brand inspection fees, lab testing and milk inspection fees. A portion of their budget also comes from State (12 percent) and Federal (15 percent) funds. Only a small percentage of the MDOL’s livestock per capita fee goes to USDA Wildlife Services for predator damage management, about 8 percent.
A county or individuals can also contract with a private individual to conduct predator control. Private individuals can legally conduct aerial hunting coyotes only if they are annually licensed through the MDOL, but they do not have the authority needed to handle wolf, grizzly bear, black bear, or mountain lion predation issues. Also, only kills confirmed by the USDA Wildlife Services as wolf kills can be reimbursed by the Montana Livestock Loss Board.
Wolf or grizzly caused livestock kills need investigated by USDA Wildlife Services according to Montana law in order for the livestock producer to be reimbursed by the Montana Livestock Loss Board. Only those livestock kills that USDA Wildlife Services determines to be confirmed or probable wolf/grizzly kills are reimbursed by the Montana Livestock Loss Board.
The County Petition forms can be downloaded from the Marias River Livestock Association website. www.MariasRiverLivstock.com or you can contact John Steuber, State Director for USDA Wildlife Services at 406-657-6464
Maggie Nutter is president of the Marias River Livestock Association.