cattle in pasture Jacqueline Nix/iStock/Thinkstock

Reimbursing ranchers for livestock killed by predators supports conservation efforts

Alberta study shows compensation program offsets costs of preserving wildlife habitat on private land.

Alberta's predator compensation program offsets costs of conserving wildlife habitat on private lands in the province.

"Our research shows that private ranchlands provide important habitats for carnivorous wildlife, including wolves, cougars, bears and eagles," explained Mark Boyce, University of Alberta professor in the department of biological sciences and Alberta Conservation Assn. chair in fisheries and wildlife.

In Alberta, where there is no system that incentivizes ranchers to maintain wildlife habitat, the compensation program plays an important role in offsetting costs for ranchers, the university said.

For the study, researchers reviewed nearly 4,500 claims from 2000 to 2016. Results showed that the distribution of ungulate hunters on private lands is highly correlated with predator compensation claims, indicating that depredation occurs on private lands that contain important habitat for wildlife.

"While compensation programs don't prevent the death of livestock, they do effectively support the maintenance of wildlife habitat on private lands," Boyce said. "In short, the predator compensation program is a good idea, because it supports wildlife in Alberta."

Simple model

The compensation program is simple. When livestock such as cattle are killed by wolves, cougars, eagles or bears, ranchers receive payment for the market value of the animal, the university said.

"In other provinces, predator compensation is a subsidy from provincial agriculture agencies," Boyce explained. In Alberta, the majority of funds come from the Alberta Conservation Assn., funded partly by revenue from hunting and fishing licenses.

Researchers also identified a substantial increase in compensation claims in the last 20 years. Boyce explained that this is due to an increase in the wolf population, which is responsible for about 70% of livestock deaths tracked in the program. The cost of the compensation program also rose during this time, bringing the amount paid in 2015-16 to nearly $800,000 (Canadian) versus less than $100,000 in 2000.

Although ownership of the compensation program has shifted hands a number of times during the last 25 years, one thing is clear: The program contributes to maintaining wildlife habitats on private lands in Alberta.

"Predator compensation requires a sustainable, forward-thinking funding model," Boyce said.

The paper, "Coexistence with Large Carnivores Supported by a Predator-Compensation Program," was published in Environmental Management.

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