Wolves may pose economic challenges to Nevada ranchers in the future.
Wolves may pose economic challenges to Nevada ranchers in the future.
Steve Foster, Extension educator in Pershing County for University of Nevada, Reno Extension

Native gray wolves, also known as timber wolves, are returning to rugged rangelands throughout the West, raising risk for the millions of cattle who graze there. 

Nevada wildlife officials confirmed in 2017 the first presence of a gray wolf (Canis lupus) in the state in nearly a century. Prior to 1917, the last wolf sighted in Nevada was in 1922. 

According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, Nevada currently does not have an established gray wolf population, but sporadic sightings have occurred, and it is illegal to hunt them. According to the International Wolf Center, “…due to the close proximity of viable wolf populations in Idaho and Wyoming, wolves may move into Nevada.” 

Wolves are confirmed in Oregon and Arizona, and there are also confirmed sightings in Utah and a confirmed pack in California. Nevada is surrounded, and so the arrival of wolves is unpreventable.  

Please enjoy this article originally provided by the Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Program (SARE).

It shares some information on some work our Extension colleagues at UC Davis are doing, funded by SARE, to quantify the impacts of wolves. SARE is a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture that provides competitive grants and educational materials. 

Their grant programs are conducted cooperatively by farmers, ranchers, researchers, and ag professionals to advance farm and ranch systems that are profitable, environmentally sound, and good for communities.

Economist Seeks 

to Quantify Impact of Wolf, Cattle 


In the California counties of Lassen, Plumas and Siskiyou, many ranchers say their cattle are being stalked by wolves and show signs of stress, such as fewer pregnancies and lower birth and weaning weights. That comes with a cost.

California has allotted $3 million to help ranchers recoup costs and mitigate risks, but a big question remains. Beyond direct kills, how do you measure the indirect economic impacts of wolf presence on cattle production? 

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, are working to answer that question, thanks to a $290,000 grant from Western Sustainable Agriculture Education and Research.

“We will measure the influence of wolf presence on cattle performance, grazing behavior and stress levels,” said Tina Saitone, the UC Davis Cooperative Extension agricultural economist leading the study. “This information can help ranchers, conservationists and government agencies work together to protect ranching sustainability as wolf populations grow.”

After a century of near extinction, gray wolves first re-entered California from Oregon in 2011.

Since then, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed more than 20 cows and calves killed by wolves. California’s two current wolf packs are mostly active on rangelands in Lassen, Plumas and Siskiyou counties, but one male wolf has also been spotted in in Kern County.  

“Officials think he was heading south looking for a mate,” Saitone said. “It’s unlikely that wolves will remain exclusively in remote parts of northern California much longer.”

Starting this summer, Saitone and her team will track beef cows and calves from six commercial herds in northern California for three years. 

Like most cattle in the West, the herds that interact with wolves graze in low elevations during the winter and spring, when the grass is green, and then move to higher ground in the summer and fall. 

Since wolves are active in the higher elevations, not in the lowland pastures, researchers will be able to measure and compare whether the same cows exhibit different behavior when they head to higher elevations and share a landscape with wolves. 

For further comparison, researchers will also track and study cattle that graze in high elevations without wolves.

Using GPS collars, the team will track behaviors such as how far cows travel to graze and whether they bunch up in response to wolf presence. GPS data can also allow researchers to observe instances when cattle move a long distance in a short time, perhaps fleeing from a predator. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publishes information on wolves’ home ranges over the course of the year, so researchers can cross-reference their GPS data.

To measure cattle stress, researchers will analyze cortisol concentration in hair. When animals, including humans, are under persistent stress, they deposit high levels of cortisol in their hair. Researchers will collect hair samples from cattle’s tails each time they move from summer to winter pastures to capture any change in stress levels.

“Chronic stress impairs the immune system and inhibits metabolic and reproduction function,” Saitone explains. “Fear of prey stimulates cortisol production, so high concentrations of cortisol after leaving high-elevation ranges could suggest that wolf presence is correlated with cattle performance and indirect economic consequences.”

At least one third of California is rangeland. Most of it is mountainous or hilly and managed for livestock production. 

Grazing on rangeland feeds livestock, but also offers many environmental benefits, such as keeping weeds and other invasive species in check, providing water storage and carbon sequestration, and supporting habitat for endangered plants and animals, such as wolves.

“Livestock operations are essential to the economic viability of rural communities and to the preservation of open space and wildlife habitat,” Saitone said. “By quantifying indirect costs of wolf-livestock interaction, we can help policy-makers develop compensation programs to help ranchers remain viable, even as wolf populations rise.”