The return of wolves to southern Manitoba a decade ago hasn't abated, resulting in ongoing heavy losses for the cattle industry, say producers.
Wolves killed at least six calves off Betty Green's Fisher Branch pastures last year that she can prove, and potentially another six she can't because she never found the carcasses.
Pet dogs have also been killed in the area, and wolves have been spotted as far south as West St. Paul.
"When we moved here (in 1982), it was an event to see a wolf. It was very rare. Now we see them often and they're bold. We had to shoot one right in our yard," said Green.
Compensation claims for livestock killed by wolves have totalled about 400 per year for much of the last decade, according to provincial farm insurer, the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp. Previous to that, the losses were below 200. In 2001, there were 150 claims.
But livestock farmers say the real number of calves may be two to five times the claims approved. You can't make an insurance claim if you can't find the carcass, and wolves are notorious for either completely devouring their kill or carrying it away.
"There are times when they carry off a young calf (about 200 pounds) and you won't find a thing," said Green. David
Koroscil, MASC claims manager, conceded obtaining evidence of calf kills is a big issue for producers.
Wolves have not been a problem for most cattle producers until recent years. "I would say up until five or six years ago, we never had a wolf kill, but usually one or two coyote kills," Green said.
Not all wolves are a problem, said Brian Lemon, general manager of Manitoba Beef Producers. But once they get a taste of prime beef, they keep coming back for more.
Dianne Riding of Lake Francis, about 60 kilometres from Winnipeg, is just starting to see wolves in her area. "They are moving closer to civilization," she said, adding the loss of a half-dozen animals can wipe out a producer's profit margin for the year, even with insurance payments.
Farmers are allowed to protect themselves against wolves but they are shrewd animals. Farmers can obtain a claim number and contact the Manitoba Trappers Association to dispose of predators.
The trappers association removed 14 wolves last year from the Fisher Branch area, about 100 kilometres north of Winnipeg. A total of 200 to 300 wolves are trapped in Manitoba annually, said Manitoba Sustainable Development. Those are both problem wolves and wolves on registered trap lines.
Provincial figures don't bear out an increase in wolves. Ken Rebizant, big-game manager, said the wolf population has held steady at about 4,000 going back to the 1990s. "But certain areas are certainly seeing more of them," such as the Interlake, said Rebizant.
Strong deer and even moose populations in previous years have drawn wolves into more southerly areas, he said.
Producers can receive compensation totalling 90 per cent of the value of a calf when killed, if they can produce the carcass as evidence. However, the farmer is still out what the animal would have returned had it been brought to market weight.