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Wolves and farmers have always been at odds. As civilization encroached on wolf territory, there was no longer the huge expanse that wolves naturally tend to roam. Their wild prey diminished at the same time. They were forced to expand their diets and farm animals were suddenly within their purview. These changes increasingly caused losses to farmers who fought back with deadly force. As the wolf population dropped, this force was forbidden by law. The reintroduction of healthy numbers of wolves and the loss of their protection by law has brought the debate back to the fore and the courts.
Farmers' most effective legal claim in favor of the use of deadly force against wolves is financial loss. In this economy losing even one of two of their livestock can be a hardship. Whether it's offspring, milk or meat, one cow or goat can yield a great deal of income. When the wolves find a wealth of animals, especially in the winter months, they most likely will come back and the farmers will continue to be affected financially.
Most states with significant wolf populations do have depredation programs where farmers are compensated for their livestock losses. But once a wolf finds the herd, the farmers still have to move their remaining animals and provide evidence to their state program, which farmers argue can be overly burdensome. Depending on the terrain, finding a safe place for a number of large livestock can be difficult if not impossible for a farmer with limited resources.
For years, wolves were listed as endangered by federal law and protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In May of 2011, they were delisted by Congress in a number of states after their numbers grew. Regulation would then be determined largely by state law. In states where they are still endangered, wolves can be killed only if there is a threat to human life. Penalties for otherwise killing a wolf can range from thousands of dollars per wolf to actual jail time. In those states, farmers have no choice but to physically protect their livestock with options such as indoor nighttime housing, increased fencing and guard dogs. In other states, farmers can kill wolves that are threatening their household pets and livestock.
Since the wolves have lost protection in some areas while the farmers' rights have stayed limited in others, the effect wolves have on farmers continues to be a controversial issue. In Montana, Idaho and Wyoming alone during the 2012 and 2013 season, it is estimated more than 500 wolves were killed by hunters eager to cash in on this highly valued prey. Once the number of wolves get too low, their protection will again go up by necessity. And again, farmers will be left without recourse against loss of their weaker livestock. Farmers and wolves by necessity impact each others' existence constantly with no simple solutions proposed.
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