August 30, 2023

Wildlife Services strengthens the standards for determining if a wolf killed a domestic animal

Robin Silver/Center for Biological Diversity

The federal agency that investigates claims that a domestic animal has been killed by a predator has released new, stronger standards that it will use when deciding if a Mexican wolf is responsible for livestock death.

Conservation groups have been pushing Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to strengthen its standards so that wolves are not falsely blamed for livestock deaths.

The groups praised the new standards, which require evidence that the animal was still alive when it encountered the wolves. That involves looking for things like subcutaneous hemorrhage and tissue damage. 

Wolves will sometimes scavenge off of already deceased animals, which is one reason the agents must determine that the animal was still alive when the wolves bit it.

“Our goal has been to make sure that Mexican gray wolves aren’t being unfairly blamed for livestock depredation,” Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project, said in a press release. “The over-reported incidence of wolf involvement in cattle deaths in the southwest has had negative impacts on the wolf recovery program, including the killing and capture of wild wolves. We’re hoping the new standards help prevent that from happening again.”  

The conservation groups say an article published last year in The Intercept may have been influential in changing the standards. The article quotes Robert “Goose” Gosnell, who administered Wildlife Services in New Mexico for more than a year while serving as the state director of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Gosnell alleged that some of the wolves that have been killed after being blamed for livestock death had not killed the livestock. He further alleged that agents would “rubber stamp” livestock loss incidents as wolf kills.  

“It’s appalling that the U.S. Department of Agriculture blames endangered Mexican gray wolves for killing cows that died of something completely different,” Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “I’m glad they’re tightening standards for determining causes of cattle mortality, but the government should go further and require that ranchers properly dispose of dead cattle to protect both wolves and livestock.”