By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A local stockgrowers association is trying to increase the budget of a program to reduce the numbers of predators of cattle.
The North Central Montana Stockgrowers Association is circulating a petition in Hill, Blaine and Chouteau counties that would add a fee of 50 cents for each head of cattle to the owners' property taxes. The money would go into a county fund to pay for the services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services predator control program.
The stockgrowers association needs to collect the signatures of the owners of 51 percent of the cattle in each county, Blaine County Extension agent Mike Schuldt said. Once the signatures are collected, the commissioners are required by state law to assess the fee.
Ranchers said the main problem they have now is that coyotes sometimes kill baby calves, which can cost them hundreds or thousands of dollars.
"It's pretty much just the coyotes we're shooting for on that deal," said Lloyd-area rancher Gordon Young.
Bear Paw Mountains rancher Leon LaSalle said the demand on Gene Bucklin of Chinook, who does predator control for USDA, is outstripping the Wildlife Service's budget for the local service.
"He's getting inundated with requests from ranchers to come out and do predator control," said LaSalle, who works for the USDA National Resources Conservation Service and is a past member of the North Central Montana Stockgrowers Association board of directors.
LaSalle said Bucklin, who could not be reached for comment this morning, asked the stockgrowers association two years ago if it could find ways to help fund the service.
Blaine County Extension agent Mike Schuldt, who serves as the association's secretary-treasurer, said the fee would supplement the predator control budget, which has federal, state and local funding. The money raised in each county would stay in that county, unless the county governments agreed to set up a joint program, he said.
Schuldt said with cattle prices at a high in recent years, $1.05 a pound or more for calves, ranchers can expect $600 to $700 for each calf sold in the fall.
Losing three or four calves to coyotes can add up to a couple of thousands of dollars lost, he said.
Schuldt said the number of sheep in the state has dropped, starting in the early 1990s, although it seems to have stabilized. A fee on sheep is one of the funding sources for the program. There is no fee on cattle now.
"The predator funds have taken a hit because of the reduced sheep population," he said.
The association also is concerned that other predators might increase the losses.
Schuldt said increasing evidence of mountain lions is being found, especially in the Little Rocky Mountains, and that wolves may move to the area once their number in the Yellowstone National Park region increases.
The money would be used to buy new equipment for Wildlife Services to use in its predator control, and to buy increased flight time to use while hunting the predators, LaSalle said.