For many years, the only place one could find gray wolves (also called timber wolves) in the continental United States was the deep forest of northern Minnesota. Today, wolves are making a strong comeback in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and they are spreading throughout the state. While the rebounding wolf population is an ecological success story, it creates challenges for farmers and ranchers who must find a way to protect livestock from these adaptable predators.
Most reports of wolf depredation on livestock still come from the northern half of the state where wolf numbers are highest. However, every year the wolf's range stretches deeper into central and southern Minnesota. In addition, the roaming tendency of wolves means they can cause livestock losses anywhere in the state.
Bears, dogs and coyotes also occasionally attack livestock, so you must look for evidence to help determine what caused the loss.
Recognizing the economic harm wolf depredation can have on domestic livestock, the 1977 Minnesota Legislature authorized the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to reimburse livestock owners for losses caused by wolves. USDA/Wildlife Services provides wolf trapping for cases of verified wolf attacks on domestic animals. To receive trapping services and to be eligible for state reimbursement, farmers and ranchers need to follow specific reporting procedures.
Step 1: Carefully examine the kill site and dead livestock. Be cautious not to trample over animal tracks or disturb the site. A USDA trapper or DNR conservation officer may be able to read subtle clues that you may not recognize. If the examination suggests a wild animal killed your livestock, protect your remaining animals by temporarily moving them to a more secure location, if possible.
CAUTION : Wolves are protected under federal law. It is illegal to harm or kill a wolf, except in defense of human life. Any attempt to frighten away wolves returning to kill other animals or to feed on dead livestock must be done without harming the wolf.
Preserving evidence of a wolf kill
Step 2: Preserve the evidence of the suspected wolf kill as much as possible and then report the kill. To be eligible for state compensation, you must report a suspected wolf kill within 24 hours of discovery to a DNR conservation officer or county extension educator. Make a note of who took your report and the day and time of your report for future reference.
Step 3: After reporting the incident, a DNR conservation officer or county extension educator will investigate and verify the wolf kill for compensation. You will be asked to complete an application for state compensation. The report will then be sent to the county extension office for a determination of the market value of the livestock lost. The request will then be sent to the MDA for payment.
The University of Minnesota conducted a study in early 1999 to determine if any livestock management practices could prevent wolf depredation. The study could find no management practices certain to prevent wolf depredation. The only method proven to prevent wolf depredation was removing the depredating wolves from the farm. However, farmers and ranchers have reported a few practices that may help in some cases. These include:
Recent research was unable to find a link between improper carcass disposal and wolf depredation. Regardless of research findings, Board of Animal Health regulations on proper carcass disposal must be followed.
These preventive practices have implementation costs and have not been shown to work in all cases. The use of guard dogs, for example, is often a first response to predation. Unfortunately, this deterrent does not work as well for wolves due to their size and cooperative hunting habits. Increased costs must be balanced by a reduction in losses to be cost effective.
Raising animals in close proximity significantly increases disease risk. Again, this increased risk of loss must be weighed against the benefits of reduced predation.
Farmers have reported some common signs that could indicate wolves have moved into your area. Signs may include:
Compensation Claim Form (PDF: 149 KB / 2 pages)