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Ranchers: Cattle Losses Represent Lost Profits

DENVER (AP) - Farmers and ranchers said Tuesday that predators like coyotes are a huge problem, despite a federal report that found the number of cattle killed by the animals was minimal.

Officials at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association said the cattle losses, even if they seem small, usually represent the profits they would have made that year. Dustin Van Liew, director of federal lands for the group, said predation to livestock, specifically their cattle, represents a significant problem for ranchers and farmers out west.

A report on cattle deaths released Thursday by the National Agricultural Statistics Service found that predatory losses cost ranchers more than $98 million.

Nationwide, 5.5 percent of all cattle and calf losses are due to predators, the study found. In 2010, 4.6 percent of Colorado's losses came from predators, mostly coyotes. Bears accounted for less than a quarter of those losses.

In Wyoming, officials attributed 9.5 percent of the cattle and calf losses to predators. Of those, wolves accounted for nearly 19 percent, and bears almost 16 percent.

Van Liew said Wildlife Services, a division of the Department of Agriculture, provides some funding associated with predatory control on wildlife, with "sometimes something like half to two-thirds of funding is contributed by private citizens, like farmers and ranchers."

Environment officials say carnivores are unfairly blamed since the top five killers of cattle are health problems like respiratory diseases or complications while calving. For instance, digestive problems and respiratory problems accounted for almost 60 percent of cattle losses in Colorado.

Nationwide, the same complications contributed to 35.2 percent of cattle loss.

Wendy Keefover, carnivore protection director at the environmental group WildEarth Guardians, said less than 1 percent of the nation's cattle were lost to carnivores, but the predation myth opens the door for the federal government to use taxpayer money on lethal and non-lethal carnivore protection.

She said Wildlife Services spent $121 million of taxpayer dollars in 2010 on lethal wildlife controls.

"Despite governmental evidence about minuscule livestock losses, ongoing covert federal wildlife-killing operations are conducted each year on our most treasured wild lands and forests," Keefover said.

Keefover also pointed out that both NASS and Wildlife Services are subsets of the Division of Agriculture.

"Wildlife Services has an unending arsenal of poisons, aerial-gunning crafts, and hidden explosive booby traps that have assaulted not only our native wildlife -- including a terrible assault on wolves, but also people and their pets," Keefover said.

Wildlife Services did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.

Van Liew and other ranchers say the money is warranted, saying cattle losses are frequently underreported by farmers who are often required to confirm cattle kills.

"For example, when wolves kill livestock, there's primarily nothing left, so there's nothing left to confirm," Van Liew said. "Research shows for that for every one confirmed predation livestock kill, seven go unconfirmed or unreported."

The federal report found that non-lethal predator control measures, like exclusion fencing and guard animals, cost farmers and ranchers $188.5 million last year.

Bill Donald, president of the National Cattlemen Beef Association and a Montana rancher, said Wildlife Services targets problem animals, rather than blanket animal removal.

While the cattle losses don't seem to count for a large part of ranchers' overall holdings, the damages could cost them their livelihoods, he said.

"That many animals, it may be a judgment call, because the amount of animals all have value and they all have the potential to take farmers and rancher out of business," Donald said.

Donald said he leases a place near Cody, Wyo., where he lost 46 head of cows, along with a young bull and a mature cow, to predatory animals last year.

"That represents what the profit would be a year on that particular operation. To us, that's what we would get if we got a profit," Donald said.

- By Sheila V. Kumar, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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