Athabasca farmer says wolf attacks put his livelihood at risk
'They're destroying my livelihood ... I can't keep taking these hits'
Since the first attack on his cattle ranch two years ago, Dennis Rybicki says wolves have been relentlessly feeding on his herd and costing him money.
The first cow was taken from a corral, where it was waiting to be butchered.
"I get up one morning and this animal is screaming bloody murder," Rybicki said. "Two wolves on it. One hind-quarter eaten, but it was still alive. I had to put it down.
Since then, he said wolf attacks have cost him at least 30 animals from his Grasslands-area ranch, about 120 kilometres north of Edmonton, resulting in more than $100,000 in losses.
"Once a wolf gets a kill in a certain area, they keep coming back to the same place, because they got rewarded there," Rybicki said. "They're destroying my livelihood. I can't keep taking these hits. That's my income."
According to research commissioned by the Alberta Beef Producers, the province's ranchers lose an estimated $2 million each year to wolves that kill cattle.
Although some provincial compensation is available, Rybicki said the program hasn't provided him any relief.
"As far as I'm concerned, the whole predator compensation program and everything that they're doing is just cruel PR to convince the public that they're doing something. But really on the farm it has absolutely no value."
For compensation to be awarded, fish and wildlife officers must prove that a wolf, not some other predator such as a coyote, was responsible for the kill.
Rybicki said that system is flawed.
"When wolves kill, they kill from the back," he said. "Coyotes usually tear the animal up, and chew it up. It's a different attack mode. According to their own handbook, these are wolf kills.
"But once the wolf has killed, and the coyotes and the ravens get in, the evidence is erased."
Of the 30 animals Rybicki said were killed by wolves on his ranch, compensation has only been approved for two taken in 2014. Though the paperwork arrived in the mail months ago, Rybicki said the money never came.
"There's two letters here saying that they sent it off for payment but there's nothing, there is no payment coming," said Rybicki, who wants to see more co-ordinated efforts to exterminate the predators, and less red tape for farmers seeking compensation.
Wolf woes overstated, says province
Fish and Wildlife officials plan to investigate Rybicki's latest complaints, but say there has been no increase in wolf predation, and suggest his concerns may be overstated.
"Over the past several years, a few investigations of dead livestock on his ranch were confirmed to be due to wolf depredation; numerous other complaints investigated found no evidence that wolves were responsible," Dan Laville, director of communications for Justice and Solicitor General Department, said in a statement.
"Officers are trained to distinguish between livestock depredation and situations where livestock has been scavenged by animals such as coyotes after dying from other causes. Fish and wildlife officers have not seen an increase in wolf depredation activity."
Alberta's director of wildlife policy suggested Rybicki's losses were a symptom of his location.
"Living in Alberta is interesting, because the closer we are to wild habitats and forested areas and landscapes, we have both benefits and costs associated with that lifestyle," said Matt Besko.
"Even if you do all the different preventative measures out on the landscape, there's still going to be a potential risk of predatory animals killing their livestock."
Rybicki said he has done all he can to keep the problem pack away from his livestock, but provincial hunting regulations prevent him from protecting his animals.
Poison is strictly prohibited, and he can't snare or shoot the animals outside of legislated hunting or trapping seasons.
Now he watches over his herd every night. But on Wednesday he lost another another animal.
"I found a yearling lying by itself, as I came up to it, I could see it had been attacked by wolves. It was all chewed up on the back end.
"I'm keeping vigil all the time. But a guy's got to sleep once and awhile."