John E. Marriott/agefotostock

It is possible for ranchers to coexist peacefully with wild wolves, but many choose not to.

While encounters between livestock and wolves can occasionally occur, wolf-related livestock depredation is minuscule. According to a report published by the Humane Society of the United States, in 2015 the USDA inventoried 112.2 million cattle in the U.S. and just 0.009% of cattle (or 1 in every 10,000 cows) was killed by a wolf. Livestock are far more likely to die of disease, birthing-related problems or from the elements than wolves. However, powerful special interest groups that support the livestock industry as well as trophy hunters and the oil, gas, and mining industries seek to reduce wolf populations for both commercial and selfish interest. They often use misinformation to overstate the threat of wolves and justify killing them. 

Livestock grazing at a subsidized cost takes place across 155 million acres of public lands in 13 states — an area the size of California and Oregon combined, and while it is possible for ranchers to coexist peacefully with wild wolves, many choose not to. They use lethal methods to deter wolves despite non-lethal options being readily available. Under the guise of “wildlife management,” their solution is simple: kill wolves.

Science does not support killing wolves for livestock-wolf conflict management. In fact, research shows that killing wolves may actually increase livestock depredation. The death of one wolf, particularly a leader, disrupts the behavior and social structure of the pack and often leads to the pack fragmenting to into smaller groups. The surviving wolves may not be able to successfully bring down their traditional prey, forcing them to rely on smaller animals and scavenging for survival.

Yellowstone's Lamar Canyon pack was thriving until alpha female 06 was shot and killed by a trophy hunter on Dec. 6, 2012. Stable and cohesive during 06s lifetime, the pack fragmented upon her death. One of 06's daughters, 820F, a beautiful light-coated wolf, became a lone wolf and was killed by a private citizen on Aug. 24, 2013 in what was deemed a livestock control action. Although 820F wasn't killed in the hunt, she was a causality nonetheless — her death a ripple effect of a broken pack social structure.

Mark Miller Photos/Getty Images

The use of non-lethal deterrents and changes to livestock husbandry practices are far more effective at preventing wolf-livestock related conflicts than killing wolves.

Responsible livestock owners are fostering coexistence through the use non-lethal means to successfully deter wolves. There are a variety of methods available and they may be even more effected when integrated, including:

  • Properly disposing of livestock carcasses to reduce attractants
  • Barriers, such as fladry, fencing, and penning
  • Synchronized birthing
  • Birthing pens and calving sheds
  • Human presence such as range riders
  • Livestock protection dogs
  • Other guarding animals, such as donkeys and llamas
  • Alarm or frightening devices
Fred van Wijk/Alamy Stock

Coexistence Resources


Beyond Wolves: the Politics of Wolf Recovery and Management




Discusses the issues of wolf recovery from a policy-making perspective. The author examines such issues as the role of science in public policy, the struggle between wilderness, resources, and private property, and stakeholders in environmental conflicts.

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Great American Wolf




Scholarly research and history of the American wolf. The author, a wildlife biologist, provides a detailed account of every wolf killed in colonial America to the present day. 1997

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Return of the Wolf: Conflict and Coexistence




Examines our relationship with wolves through natural history, indigenous stories, and field interviews. 2019

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War Against the Wolf: America's Campaign to Exterminate the Wolf




Through documents and articles, McIntyre chronicles the persecution of the wolf beginning in early America to 1995. The comprehensive history traces human attitudes toward wolves and how wolf policy is influenced. 1995

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Wolf Nation: The Life, Death, and Return of Wild American Wolves




The author, a nature writer and NPR contributor combines science and storytelling to the 300-year history of wild wolves in America. One chapter is devoted to the story of 06. The book critically acclaimed internationally, was also selected as Forbes Magazine Conservation Book of the Year. 2017

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Wolfer: A Memoir




The author, a former wolf trapper, was one of the key figures involved in the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. His transformation can be summed up by one of the quotes in his book, "If wolves can't live in the wilderness, where can they live?" 2010

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