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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cowboys, Carnivores, and Dead Stock Removal

Dead stock removal bin, seen during last summer's
Drywood Yarrow Conservation Partnership watershed tour
C. Davis photo
Chris Davis, Pincher Creek Voice

Dead Stock Removal Program considered by MD Council

At their December 13, 2012 meeting the Agricultural Service Board resolved to forward the "MD of Pincher Creek Large Carnivore Conflict Dead Stock Removal Program Proposal" to Council their consideration. In that proposal they requested that Council pay up to 50% of the total costs associated with implementing the program, with the money to be used towards providing bins and the costs associated with administering the program.

In the proposal the Agricultural Service Board said it "envisions a public meeting be called in January to poll producers on new locations for bins to establish locations for dead stock to be collected. Bins will be emptied by West Coast Reductions with the invoice for disposal being sent to the Municipal District rather than to a variety of local producers. The Municipal District would audit the bin inventory against the collection data and send an invoice to the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association for payment."

According to the proposal the MD would take on an administrative role, including the auditing and invoicing of dead stock placed into bins as well as assisting with initial capital "and some ongoing cost through its Special Projects funding of the Agricultural and Environmental Services Department budget."

Suggested boundaries for dead stock removal within the
MD of Pincher Creek (outlined in black)

The proposal indicates that an initial one-time funding for bins on a cost share basis would be under $5,000. Initial funds for the program would be granted to the MD by the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association's Working Carnivore Group to cover the costs of dead stock removal.

According to information reported in "Carnivore Conflicts in South-western Alberta" by Mathew B. Urmson and Andrea T. Morehouse*, there were 5073 reported occurrences of carnivore-ranching conflicts in the Cardston, Pincher Creek, Blairmore, and Claresholm Fish and Wildlife Districts from the years 1999 to 2011. 
  • 1962 of those were Black bear occurrences that were found to be 81% attractant based, including garbage, vegetation, bird seed, and dead stock/bone yards.
  • 1265 of those were Grizzly bear occurrences. 60% of those were due to attractants, further broken down to 41% bone yards/dead stock and 38% grain and feed storage.
  • 880 were Cougar occurrences, with 87% of those based on livestock. 8% was attractant based with 97% of that being bone yards/dead stock.
  • 709 were Wolf occurrences, 97% based on livestock and 3% attractant based, with 97% of the attract based occurrences being related to bone yards/dead stock.
The study found that occurrences increased from 1999 to 2011, with a noted increase after 2003, when BSE precipitated changes in the practices of dead stock disposal.
"Prior to BSE, rendering trucks removed dead stock free of charge for the use of animal feed. However, changes in regulations by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) now prohibit the inclusion of specified risk material (SRM) in livestock feed, pet food, and fertilizer. This made it impossible for the rendering companies to continue picking up dead stock free of charge." 
The proposal breaks the program into two phases.
  • Phase 1 establishes physical boundaries for the program established in cooperation of AESRD Fish and Wildlife and Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association's Working Carnivore Group.
  • Phase 2 is a proposed larger dead stock removal area, to be decided on once the MD investigates "more cost effective ways of disposing of the dead stock within the municipality". The proposal hopes to see program cover the whole of the MD once more effective means of disposing the dead stock is understood or more funds are procured to cover costs. 
*Andrea Morehouse will be one of the speakers at an upcoming Bear and Wolf informational meeting to be hosted by the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association Carnivore Working Group on Tuesday, January 29 at the Heritage Inn in Pincher Creek.  (click here for more information)

At their January 8, 2013 meeting Council for the Municipal District of Pincher Creek discussed the issue at length. Director of Operations Leo Reedyk said "I believe we have a workable project. I'm optimistic this dead stock removal program is just the first step in dealing with dead stock on the landscapes.  This program was recommended by the Ag Service Board after many years of discussion."

"What if we encounter bad debt?" asked Councillor Garry Marchuk. "How do we collect those? Is there a long-term commitment from the Waterton Biosphere Association?"
"I would say it's short to mid term," replied Reedyk. "They did indicate they were looking for leverage and additional funds through the Ag Services Board."

"Are we going to be stuck with footing the whole bill down the road and end up subsidizing local cattle ranchers?" asked Marchuk, who reiterated that concern several times during the discussion.

"I think it's on a 'needs' basis," said Councillor Helen Cyr, who sits on the Agricultural Service Board. "It's designed to to mitigate the problems in the community from a safety angle. They are trying to prove to the government that this is a necessary step, and after that they will be looking to the government for more funding."
"We (the Agricultural Service Board) feel that its a worthwhile program for the community, not just the ranchers, to remove that dead stock.

"It makes common sense to try and get rid of dead bodies around the country," said Councillor Terry Yagos. "It's a needed program. It's public safety...it's a start of a program and it's good for all of the community."

Reeve Bjorn Berg expressed concern about the potential long term costs of the project to the MD. "At 9 cents a pound for 1400 pound animal.. we're looking at a $16000 bill. I don't think there's that kind of money in our special projects fund and I don't think there's that kind of money in the Waterton Biosphere's fund. I think their total commitment was only $200,000. We may have only a year before we're up the creek, so to speak."

"As you can see, the numbers have gone down," replied Councillor Helen Cyr. "I have a lot of faith in the Cardston composting project that the government is already funding."

"It's open ended," said Berg. "I'm in favour of the program. I just have some questions of the logistics in place. We have to do our due diligence. "I think we're going to have to look pretty hard at the other programs the government has and try to get some assistance that way. My own feeling is if we start it we're going to be in it. I don't think it will ever end."

"We're not ready to pass this," said Yagos. "There has to be a limit on it."

"I think it's a partnership deal," said Berg. "I don't want to curtail our involvement here. Is there an immediate need for this, Helen?"

"There will be this spring," Councillor Cyr replied.

Acting on a suggestion by Berg, council tabled the proposal until the next Council meeting, directing Administration to create a "nicely rounded out proposal" for further discussion.

Cowboys and Carnivores project wraps up

Cowboys and Carnivore Local Coordinator Kelly Cooley announced the end of the Cowboys and Carnivores project at a meeting held at Twin Butte Community Hall last month. Cowboys and Carnivores was a joint project of the Miistakis Institute and the Drywood Yarrow Conservation Partnership. A landowner carnivore monitoring program was developed, including a website where area ranchers could submit information about carnivore observations and interactions "to assist in the development of solutions".

"This is a project I could work on close to home with the community I love, with neighbours and friends," said Cooley. "The idea is to monitor carnivore activity within the community."

"Part of this project that I found really interesting was people's pre-conceived notions of carnivores, and their place in a community. I was struck by how diverse opinions are on carnivores in this community. By far and away the most that was dealt with in this contract were bears, and more specifically, Grizzly bears. Grizzly bears were the largest part of the job, by far."

"Most people would say 'I haven't had a conflict' and I would say 'Yeah, but you are seeing the animal, or signs of the animal'. The damages are definitely happening. The emotion of this issue is amazing to me. Just how frustrating it can be. Even people who don't want to have any conflict with bears would get a little frustrated the third time having grizzlies dig up a buried horse carcass."

"I think that people generally don't realize what the landowners are facing down here, and I think what I've heard a lot is that the landowners get frustrated that they can't deal with the problems directly, when it comes to Grizzly bears, whereas with some of the other species, they can."
"In a lot of cases, it's a good news story of some of the preventative things that the Drywood Yarrow group are doing to prevent conflict before it happens. The media was pretty supportive, I think they wanted to hear the stories on this issue, and I think they will continue."
"These animals aren't going away, and we aren't going away either," said Cooley.

"The numbers are up, these animals are losing their fears of peoples yards."

"I think that the solutions for this are going to come from more than one direction."

"The least successful part of this project was the statistical side. The most successful from my perspective was it did raise awareness, it did report some of the things it was supposed to."

Related links:
Carnivores and Communities in the Waterton Biosphere Reserve

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