Special Edition: A field report from Wood River Workshop
It’s not often that you find Defenders staff, several ranchers, and Wildlife Services biologists and field agents all gathered around a table having a productive conversation about wolves. But that’s exactly what happened this week during a two-day workshop in the beautiful Wood River Valley of central Idaho.
Maybe it was the gorgeous backdrop of the stunning Sawtooth Mountains. Maybe it was the perfect weather. Maybe it was something in the water. But whatever it was bodes well for the future of the Wood River Wolf Project.
The workshop officially kicked off the fifth year of what has been a tremendously successful collaboration between Defenders, Blaine County, a handful of local sheep producers, and at least four different federal agencies. Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center and Wildlife Services district office all attended the workshop and offered valuable insights into how to expand the scope of the project and make it more effective overall.
There was broad agreement about the need to involve more ranchers by disseminating best management practices for preventing livestock losses to wolves. Mike Stevens with Lava Lake Lamb said his herders having been using guard dogs, fladry and scare devices for years, virtually eliminating all losses to wolves. Yet many Idaho ranchers are still not familiar with nonlethal deterrents and how to implement them.
Last year, Defenders began laying the groundwork to significantly expand the scope of the project from a relatively small portion of the Sawtooth National Forest to pastures and grazing allotments countywide. Doing so will require a dramatic shift in our approach—from having field technicians out 24/7 tracking wolves and following bands of sheep, to having them conduct site evaluations and recommending ways to avoid conflict in high risk areas. Making that change will take time and require the cooperation of all our partners, but ultimately will allow us to increase tolerance for wolves across a much wider area.
The group also agreed that having more collared wolves in the project area could provide much-needed information about wolf activity and the effectiveness of nonlethal tools. There are currently only about 30 collared wolves left in the entire state, and none remaining in Blaine County. By deploying more collars, Defenders field technicians can make more accurate assessments of the threats to sheep, especially as they move through rugged wilderness where livestock are harder to protect.
Beyond the discussion of management tools, the workshop was vitally important for re-establishing trust between all project partners. We don’t always see eye-to-eye, but frank discussions during the workshop showed how much can be accomplished when we’re all working toward the same goal: keeping as many sheep and wolves alive as possible.
Thanks to all workshop participants for traveling long distances to share their knowledge and expertise on how best to foster coexistence between people and wildlife.
Look for updates throughout the season as Defenders field technicians set out to survey the landscape and forge new relationships with livestock producers across Blaine County. Good luck team!