Predicting Spatial Risk of Wolf-Cattle Encounters and Depredation
Spatial variability in terrain, vegetation, and other features affect cattle and wildlife distribution on mountainous grazing lands of the western United States. Yet we have a poor understanding of how this spatial variability influences risk of wolf-cattle encounters and associated depredation. This knowledge gap severely limits our capacity to prevent or mitigate wolf-cattle conflict. Research addressing this problem was conducted in 2009_2011 at four study areas in western Idaho to evaluate models and mapping tools for predicting spatial risk of wolf-cattle encounters. Lactating beef cows grazing these study areas were instrumented with Global Positioning System (GPS) collars and tracked at 5-min intervals throughout the summer grazing season. Resource selection function (RSF) models, based on negative binomial regression, were developed from these GPS data and used to map the relative probability of cattle use in each study area. A wolf RSF model originally developed by Ausband et al. (2010) was applied to map study-area habitat types in terms of their relative suitability as wolf rendezvous sites. Spatial relationships between cattle and wolf selectivity patterns were used to classify and map wolfcattle encounter risk to 5 classes (very high to very low) across each study area during the wolf rendezvous period (15 June_15 August). Validation analyses using GPS-based, wolf-cattle encounter observations (n ¼ 200) revealed 84% of observed encounters occurred in areas of high- or very high_encounter risk (class 4 or 5). About 75% of confirmed wolf depredations recorded among three of four study areas were located in areas of high or very high risk. This new predictive understanding of wolf-cattle encounter risk will greatly aid livestock producers, resource managers, and policy makers in more effectively applying husbandry practices, allocating mitigation resources, and developing conflict mitigation plans and policies applicable throughout the mountainous western United States and potentially other regions of the world where wolves and cattle come into conflict.