Changes sought for wildlife predator compensation program

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The current wildlife predator compensation program needs to be revamped, says the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association Carnivore Working Group.

“Many of the landowners and ranchers are finding out that the system seems to be too restrictive and the burden of proof seems to be too high,” project co-ordinator Jeff Bectell said during a recent tour of the group’s carnivore mitigation projects.

At a farm that suffered sheep losses to a grizzly in 2012, Bectell cited an example of a sheep that died during a grizzly attack but didn’t have a mark on it — possibly dying from the stress of the event.

“The system requires that the carcass have evidence that the bear or the wolf or the cougar killed it,” Bectell said. “Nobody would want to start compensating people for losses that their cow just died and the bear scavenged it. But the feeling in the community is we’re mostly pretty honest people and that maybe the burden of proof is just a little high and it’s been a frustration to the point where some people won’t even call Fish and Wildlife now because they think it’s just a waste of their time.”

The wildlife predator compensation program pays for cattle, bison, sheep, swine and goats injured or killed by predators such as wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, cougars and eagles. Kills by coyotes are not covered by this program, nor are attacks on horses, donkeys, llamas and other exotic animals, which are covered by other provincial and municipal programs.

Many parts of the program are working well, but his group wants it revamped to include missing livestock, full compensation for probable kills, and a higher minimum amount per animal, said Bectell. The burden of proof should also be reduced and there should be additional incentives to reduce risk, he said. The southwestern area of Alberta has seen increased grizzly activity in recent years, and Bectell took tour participants to farms that have had grain and livestock impacted by the bears.

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, which administers the program, is reviewing the recommendations, said spokesperson Carrie Sancartier.

“At this point it’s too early in the process to say what changes would be made to the program, but the requests are coming in and they’re being looked at,” Sancartier said.

Producers have experienced some delays in getting payment from the Alberta Conservation Association. That’s because claims outstripped available funds last year, said association president and CEO Todd Zimmerling.

“We had to wait till new funding started this spring,” he said.

ACA uses proceeds from the sale of hunting and fishing licences to fund its conservation programs, including the predator compensation program. Zimmerling said compensation payouts have risen from $68,000 in 2001 to $274,000 in 2011 — a result of higher cattle prices and more claims, which rose from 121 in 2006 to 228 last year. Alberta is seeking federal funding as Ottawa funds compensation programs in other western provinces, he said.

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