A recent University of Montana study found that wolf predation contributes to lower weight gain in calves on Montana ranches.

The study concludes that wolf predation leads to an economic loss several time higher that the direct disbursement ranchers receive for a cow killed by wolves.

Associate professor and chair of the UM Department of Economics Derek Kellenberg said on Thursday, January 16, that the study resulted in two primary conclusions.

"The two primary things we found in the study are that wolves on the landscape have no relationship that we can find, to weight losses of cattle in Montana," Kellenberg said. "However, once wolves have been confirmed to have killed a calf on a ranch, there is an effect on weight gain on calves on those ranches in that year, averaging about 22 pounds."

Kellenberg said the economic effect on a Montana rancher from that kind of weight loss can be devastating.

"For a rancher, that works out to about a $6,000 per loss per year, with an average of 250 calves on a ranch," Kellenberg said. "The average reimbursement for a calf that is lost to wolf predation is only about $900 dollars, so the indirect cost of a confirmed wolf kill on a ranch is about seven and a half times what the direct cost is that they often get compensated for."

Kellenberg said the study leads to two conclusions.

"For policy makers, these losses may be something we want to think about going forward, about the true cost of losses due to wolf management in Montana, and throughout the west," Kellenberg said. "The other thing is, although there are these wolf effects, they are small relative to the variation of other things associated with weight gain, things like snowfall, temperature, overall precipitation and other ranch-specific husbandry practices. In fact, those explain the vast majority of variance in calf weights. Even so, these wolf effects are serious to the ranches that experience wolf kills."

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks cooperated on the study, which analyzed data from ranches in western Montana, and confirmed wolf depredations on 18 ranches.

Associate Professor and Chair of the UM Department of Economics Derek Kellenberg