Wildlife and agriculture don’t always mix, but with a little extra effort conflict can be prevented. Progressive farmers and ranchers are coming up with ways to encourage wildlife-friendly agriculture—strategies for safeguarding livestock without resorting to lethal control.
In the scenic Pioneer Mountain region of central Idaho sits a grass-fed lamb operation known as Lava Lake Lamb. The owners, Kathleen and Brian Bean, devote themselves to ranching sustainably, while also improving and restoring the native habitat surrounding their property. Their animals roam freely over one million acres of rangeland, but also under the watchful eye of trained shepherds. After all, there are predators such as wolves out there, and the Bean’s need to protect their livestock. But for these ranchers, wolves are a natural part of the landscape and the Beans seek to coexist peacefully with them.
With help from the Defenders Wolf Coexistence Partnership program, Lava Lake Lamb has employed several practical measures to minimize sheep-wolf conflicts. Many wolves bear radio collars from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, so Lava’s herders carry telemetry devices to detect approaching wolves and move the lambs when necessary. Herders also carry shotguns loaded with rubber bullets to scare off, rather than harm wolves. At night, herders set up temporary electrified fencing tied with red cloth strips (known as turbofladry) to protect the herd in wolf areas. And, they increased their number of guard dogs.
These simple non-lethal deterrents have proven extremely effective for reducing livestock losses to wolves for Lava Lake. In 2008 they partnered with Defenders to form the groundbreaking Big Wood River Valley Wolf Project, bringing other sheep producers on board with these measures in collaboration with land managers. In 2010, despite more than 10,000 sheep grazing in the project area, only one sheep was killed by wolves and no wolves were killed by agency managers.
It is our hope that this project continues and that other ranchers will see the effectiveness of these measures and choose to implement them as well. Wildlife and agriculture need not be mutually exclusive, and with ranchers such as Lava Lake leading the way, it can be done in ways that both can benefit.