Quantifying the Indirect Costs of Gray Wolf – Cattle Interactions

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $296,080.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2025
Host Institution Award ID: G366-22-W9209
Grant Recipient: University of California, Davis
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Tina Saitone
University of California, Davis
Dr. Kenneth Tate
University of California Davis


  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: other, preventive practices

    Proposal abstract:

    Following a century of expatriation, gray wolves (Canis lupus) returned to California in 2011, and populations have rapidly grown [1]. This has created a challenge facing ranchers, policy makers, and conservationists: restoring wolf populations – a State policy – while fairly compensating ranchers for direct (i.e., livestock kills) and indirect (i.e., reduced livestock performance) costs. Research suggests livestock-predator interactions affect cattle behavior in many ways that would generate substantial indirect costs associated with reduced nutritional status, conception rates, birth weights, and weaning weights [2–4]. However, to date there has been no comprehensive economic assessment that translates these behavioral changes into indirect costs. Beyond the indirect economic consequences, there are also concerns among stakeholders that changes in cattle grazing distribution, due to wolf presence, may lead to negative impacts to ecologically sensitive areas (e.g., riparian areas, aspen stands).

    California’s 2021/22 State Budget includes $3 million to allow the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), in collaboration with rural communities, to develop a “Wolf Conflict Program” that provides compensation to livestock producers for wolf depredation events and losses in  productivity (i.e., indirect impacts) due to wolf presence. This program requires science-based economic information. We are proposing to conduct research to quantify the influence of wolf presence on cattle performance, grazing behavior, and stress levels in cattle. After identifying wolf-related production impacts, we will translate these changes into costs per head. Finally, we will evaluate if changes in cattle grazing behavior and distribution due to wolf presence negatively impact riparian areas and aspen stands. The totality of this information will directly fill the needs identified by stakeholders and will be essential to the design and updating of the California Wolf Conflict Program going forward.

    In collaboration with a stakeholder advisory group, outreach activities for this project will broadly include creating and delivering extension materials, tools, workshops, and field tours that allow producers, policy makers, and conservationists to discuss, understand, and quantify the consequences and indirect economic costs associated with the rapidly expanding wolf-livestock interactions across the region. Outreach to extend a step-by-step cost calculation tool directly to ranchers to help them detect and document production losses, livestock protection costs, and overall calculation of annual economic cost to their operation from wolf-livestock interactions will be conducted in direct coordination with county and state livestock producer organizations.  This outreach activity will establish baseline production and operation cost estimates across the region for areas where wolves are not yet present, and allow ranchers impacted by wolves to prepare for participation in the compensation program.

    Restoring wolf populations to California is a direct threat to the sustainability of ranching operations and potentially the natural resources base upon which they depend if grazing management adjustments are not made to address changes in cattle behavior and impacts. This project will provide essential information to develop policies and programs (e.g., California’s Wolf Conflict Program) to address that threat and balance agricultural and conservation goals.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research Objectives:

    1. Quantify the influence of wolf presence on cattle performance and grazing behavior across six herds of cattle grazing on rangelands (three herds within wolf activity areas and three control herds in nearby areas without wolves);
    2. Evaluate the impacts that wolf-driven modifications in grazing behavior has on environmental quality and natural resources;
    3. Evaluate the impact that wolf presence has on stress levels in wolf-affected and control herds (using hair cortisol sampling); and
    4. Translate predator-related changes in performance, behavior, and stress into economic costs (indirect predator costs).


    Outreach Objectives:

    1. Establish a stakeholder advisory committee to aid in the design of all aspects of program development;  
    2. Develop rancher-focused educational materials and tools (cost calculation tools) to guide detection and documentation of production losses, livestock protection costs, and annual economic cost to their operation from wolf-livestock interactions. Make the tools and education materials available via hands-on workshops and website; and
    3. Extend our research findings directly to ranchers, policy makers and agencies, county supervisors, conservation groups, other vested stakeholders, and the research community (5 specific outreach activities for this objective; see outreach plan).
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.