BILLINGS (AP) — The value of livestock killed by predators such as grizzly bears and wolves is expected to exceed the budget for compensating ranchers for such losses this year, the Montana Livestock Loss Board said.

George Edwards, the board’s executive director, said so far this year 331 head of livestock have been killed by wolves, grizzlies and mountain lions.

With more than $262,000 in payouts having been made through Nov. 23, Edwards told The Billings Gazette he doesn’t think the state’s $300,000 annual budget will be enough to cover all the losses.

Claims for animals killed by grizzly bears have been increasing in recent years. Six years ago, reported grizzly bear kills of cattle was 50 head with another 16 probable kills. So far this year, there have been 80 confirmed kills and another 35 that are probable.

Wolves also kill sheep, while mountain lions kill sheep and goats. 

The Montana Legislature started the Livestock Loss Program in 2007 to compensate ranchers for animals lost to grizzly bears and wolves. Mountain lions were added to the predators list and the legislature increased the compensation program’s annual budget from $200,000 to $300,000 in 2019. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Damage agents investigate reported livestock kills and determine if the ranchers should be compensated.

The board also helps pay for ranchers to take preventative steps to decrease the risk of loss, such as putting up electrified fencing around livestock.

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