October 29, 2014 2:28 pm
Updated: October 29, 2014 9:00 pm

Wolf pack putting livelihood at risk: Alberta farmer

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Watch above: Alberta farmers say a roaming wolf pack is destroying their cattle and they’re asking the province to step in. Kendra Slugoski reports. WARNING: Disturbing details/images.

WARNING: Some of the details and images in this story are graphic and may be disturbing to some.

EDMONTON – Farmers east of Edmonton are fed up with a growing a pack of wolves that has reportedly killed dozens of their grazing cows.

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A couple dozen farmers put their cattle out to pasture earlier this year on the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Grazing, Wildlife and Provincial Recreation Area, where they have a lease with the province.

They use the provincial land between spring and fall, at which time they bring their cattle back to their farms over the winter.

The farmers say the first cow was killed in May, and over the next few months the wolves kept coming back for more.

The farmers now estimate about two dozen cows have been killed by the wolf pack within the park boundaries as well as surrounding farms and pastures.

“I take real good pride of my cows and take pride in taking good care of them,” said farmer Dan Brown, who is also with the Blackfoot Grazing Association.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than watching them get killed and you’re not allowed to do anything about it.”

Brown added the cows – especially the younger ones – have been nervous.

“We know there’s 29 missing total from the pasture, and we know that six of those are confirmed to have died what we deem natural causes… so that leaves 23.”

“It’s not very good,” added Brown. “That’s huge economically.”

Another farmer, Ken Hesse, took 75 cows out to Blackfoot pasture this year. He’s had cattle in the area for 25 years and says this is the first time he’s had a major problem with wolves.

Hesse says he’s had three cows attacked this year.

Two were killed in late May. The third was found alive on May 29, left with gaping wounds on its hindquarters.

Typically, the cow would have had to be put down, but since it was still eating, the farmer tried to help it. He spent two months treating the cow and washing out the wounds and the cow made an unexpected recovery.

One cow that survived what farmers believe is a wolf attack on the Blackfoot provincial pasture in May 2014.

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Farmers are allowed to kill wolves on private property but not in provincial parks.

However, the province gave the Blackfoot Grazing Association special permission to cull six wolves within the park in early October. So far, three have been killed.

“That’s a short term measure to reduce the wolf pack size, and we know that that will assist when the livestock return to grazing pastures in the spring,” said Tim Chamberlin, with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

But, farmers said it’s too little, too late.

Most farmers had planned to move their cows from the pasture to their private farms a few days later anyway. Some farmers did so even earlier to protect their cattle.

“We’ve never said they have to get rid of them all but something has to be done,” said Brown.

“The only logical reason they’ve been able to give me is this public outcry they’re going to have.

“Well, what about our public outcry against them?”

The province says it has a mandate of conservation and preservation within provincial parks.

“Certainly wolves are part of the ecosystem out here, as are a number of other species,” said Chamberlin. “So it’s finding that balance and trying to minimize the losses between the wolves and the livestock.”

Brown, along with about 75 other farmers, gathered in Tofield Tuesday afternoon for a meeting with the province.

The province has committed to creating a working group to find a solution, which will include doing a count on the size of the pack.

The farmers believe the wolf pack has grown to as many as 30, while the province estimates the number is between 15 and 20.

“We’re waiting to see the numbers but we are also going to be talking about preventative measures and what both parties can do to try to satisfy the issue come the spring,” said Chamberlin.

But farmers left the meeting unsatisfied with the province’s plan, citing a concern the wolf pack will grow larger by the spring, leaving the farmers uncertain with what they will do with their cattle.

Brown says if something doesn’t change, he’ll either have to find private pasture – which is more expensive – or sell his cows.

“Then kind of what you’ve worked for all of your life is gone.”

Farmers estimate they’ve lost at least $200,000 from the lost cattle and related expenses, like finding other pasture and lower weight cows.

The province offers some compensation, but Brown says it’s not enough.

“As soon as it’s deemed a probable kill … the most you can receive is 50 per cent,” he explained. “I mean, that’s nowhere near what they’re worth, (but) it’s better than nothing.”

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