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Published May 17, 2010, 02:51 PM

Wolves take calves from inside barn pen

FARGO, N.D. — Gary Leonhardt says he’s seen the height of boldness.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Gary Leonhardt says he’s seen the height of boldness.

Officials have confirmed that two wolves came onto his farm near Waskish, Minn., three miles east of Upper Red Lake. They crawled through a cattle gate and went into his cow barn to kill three of his newborn calves.

“I’ve never seen that before, never heard of it,” Leonhardt says.

Leonhardt is happy with quick responses from federal wildlife officials, who say wolf complaints this year are running about double the normal amount because of an unusually early spring that makes deer harder for the wolves to catch and kill.

Leonhardt hopes get state compensation for the calf loss, a total of about $2,100. He’s a bit worried about the timeliness of the compensation, considering Minnesota’s budget woes.

Leonhardt says the whole things surprised him.

The majority of Leonhardt’s cows are out on pasture now, but he’s still feeding hay on those pastures for another couple of weeks. About 30 of his cows have not yet calved.

At 7:30 p.m. May 10, he put three newborn calves in a calving pen in his barn.

“One of the calves was 3 days old, the other two were a day old,” says Leonhardt, 59. “Their mother was on the other side of the gate. I turned the mothers out to eat and have water for the night. Then I’d turn the calves back out in the morning.”

At 6:30 a.m. May 11, when Leonhardt went to the barn to let them out, all thee calves were dead — gutted or torn in pieces. Tracks told him there were two wolves — one with paw prints 4 inches across and then a smaller wolf had prints 3 inches across.

The cattle gate allowed less than a foot between the bars. He’d left the solid door open on the north side of the structure for air circulation. On the south side of the barn were the mothers and the cows that hadn’t yet calved.

Increase in complaints

Leonhardt says he’s dealt with some wolf depradation for years, but especially since the 1980s.

“They usually take an average of two or three animals during the year,” Leonhardt says. “There’s always calves missing in the fall — not a great number, and some years are worse than others. Most years we lose some, due to wolves. Every once in awhile, we have no trouble.”

But there have been increasing difficulties.

The Leonhardts’ 50-pound cow dog, a male collie named Bingo, was bitten on the hindquarters by a wolf on the opening of fishing in 2009.

“I’ve seen tracks around the barn this year and last year, nosing around the barn, but never have seen them go in,” Leonhardt says.

Leonhardt has contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service in Grand Rapids, Minn.

John Hart is director of wildlife services at the Grand Rapids office, which handles wolf complaints for northern Minnesota. He is familiar with Leonhardt’s operation.

“The Waskish area has always been the wolf’s country,” Hart says. “Even back, 20 or 30 years ago when we didn’t have nearly as many wolves in Minnesota that was the type of cattle producer — next to large tracts of (wild) land — that were affected.”

Today, wolves can be seen throughout northern Minnesota and into the central part of the state.

Hart says there have been about 70 to 74 “wolf complaints” so far in 2010, about double the normal of 30 to 40 complaints by this time. Not all of those complaints will turn out to be wolf damage.

The likely reason is the early spring and snow melt, which makes deer less available to the wolves. So far, the agency has had to remove 32 wolves. Hart agrees that Leonhardt’s complaint of wolves coming into a barn is “very rare” and that he’d never heard of that before.

Leonhardt says he’s been compensated for depradation issues in the past in a fund set up by the state.

The value of the calves is figured at the fall calf rate, which he expects will be about $700 per animal — about $2,100 total, depending on an estimate by the local county Extension Service agent. He would have fed out the calves for about a year and a half, though, when they’d likely brought $1,200 to $1,500 apiece.

“They don’t pay for the difference between the $2,100 and the $4,500 they’d have been worth,” Leonhardt says.

Compensation

Hart says the program is for livestock or poultry that are verified as killed by wolves. It doesn’t apply to wounded animals, pets or missing animals. There has to be carcass presence. He says he understands that the state compensation fund, run by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, is nearly empty for the fiscal year that ends June 30, but that unpaid claims may be paid after July 1 when the funds are replenished.

Leonhardt praises APHIS for quick action. A trapper was scheduled to come to his place May 12.

“It’s nice to have that service, but it would be nice to have a hunting season like Montana had, and keep the numbers in check a little, and help the farmers out,” Leonhardt says.

Not all wolf problems are farm-related.

On March 17, Hart requested permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “lethally remove” wolves posing a “demonstrable but nonimmediate threat to human safety” in Minnesota wolf management zone 1.

There were two verified dog depredation incidences in the Ely, Minn., area in February — one involving a St. Bernard dog and another involving a wolf stalking a dog in an occupied residence.

To justify the request, Hart cited an Alaskan study that reported people were bitten two out of six times when dogs were present. He asked for permission to kill wolves for up to 30 days within a mile of sites when it was confirmed by his agency or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that a domestic animal has been killed or injured within that zone. The permission would involve depredation within 150 feet of a “human occupied building” or within a mile of the city limits of a town or city in the zone.

Wolf complaints can be directed to the APHIS office at 218-327-3350.

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