16 December 2013 Living with wildlife in the Southwest Posted by: Craig Miller | 23 comments | Share: Coexistence is key for survival of apex predators like the highly endangered Mexican gray wolf As winter begins to take hold in the high country of the American Southwest, people and wildlife alike are busy preparing for cold temperatures and deep snow. Humans are stacking firewood, caching canned foods and winterizing homes; elk and deer are making their way down to lower elevations for access to winter forage; and Mexican gray wolves are finishing up the spoils of their successful hunts and the leftovers from human hunters before following the herds to lower ground. Because cattle also graze on these same winter pastures, we at Defenders are also busy working with ranchers and wolf project managers making preparations for collaborative work to reduce the potential for conflicts between wolves and livestock. A member of the Turkey Creek Livestock Association on the White Mountain Apache Reservation tests a motion detection camera. This camera program provides reward payments for photos of wolves taken by remote cameras, creating a financial incentive for wolf presence on tribal lands. Our Living with Wildlife programs are based on the recognition that humans and wildlife occupy a shared landscape and that we share the responsibility to resolve our conflicts. Through these partnership projects we hope to increase tolerance for critically endangered Mexican gray wolves in time to prevent their extinction, and do so in a way that encourages cooperation, leadership and respect for the ecological restoration that scientists say will accompany these wolves’ recovery. Throughout 2013, we’ve developed and supported 12 coexistence projects in the territories of 13 wolf packs within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area and on White Mountain Apache tribal lands. These projects have involved range riders, fladry, alternative pastures, diversionary feeding of livestock, community calving and other proven techniques to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock. For more details on these conflict avoidance tools and techniques take a look at our field guide Livestock and Wolves – A Guide to Non-lethal Tools and Methods to Reduce Conflict. While no single approach to reducing conflicts is effective in every situation, by working together with affected livestock producers and wildlife managers to troubleshoot problem scenarios, we’ve made improvements on the ground for both wolves and humans. But, while the number of wild Mexican gray wolves has grown in the last year from 58 to 75, their future still remains highly uncertain and we’ve still got a lot of hard work ahead. Defenders southwest representative Craig Miller shows Apache Wilderness Journeys guests how to recognize and identify Mexican wolf tracks. I’ve also been working as a conservation representative on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican Wolf Interdiction Stakeholder Council (now called the Coexistence Council) alongside wolf country ranchers, tribal and county representatives and agency officials to help develop a new and innovative program to support a growing wolf population. We call this the “Coexistence Plan.” What’s exciting about this program is that it has been co-developed by some of the ranchers who have been most affected by wolves, yet it still seeks to support a viable population of these very wolves. By combining conflict avoidance measures with performance-based incentives for successfully hosting a growing wolf population, this home-grown approach has great potential to further wildlife conservation while better addressing the concerns of ranchers living in wolf country. Adding to that, Defenders’ yearly Living with Wildlife and coexistence project expenditures will be used as a match to help cooperating states and tribes obtain critical funding through the federal Livestock Loss Demonstration Act. These funds will, in turn, be used to implement various strategies of the Coexistence Plan, so we all share responsibility for the implementation and success of the Coexistence Plan. And if we’re successful, the conservation benefits of our work will be multiplied because these funds will help to implement more conflict avoidance projects in new wolf territories and provide a financial incentive to local communities for helping to increase the wild wolf population. PausePlayPlayPrev|Next Tour guides for Apache Wilderness Journeys, a tribal ecotour enterprise which includes a focus on Mexican gray wolf recovery. The ecotour includes wolf program interpretation, crown dancers, elder storytelling and traditional cooking. Defenders helped the tribe develop their Apache Wilderness Journeys program. Apache Wilderness Journeys participants on horseback pass a herd of elk. Defenders sponsored range riders on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Range riders are an effective coexistence measure to ward off livestock depredations, as wolves will avoid areas where riders are present. Apache tourism director enjoying wolf watching at Yellowstone National park. Defenders sponsored this visit to assist the Apache in developing wolf-centered ecotourism in Arizona. Red fladry around a pasture in Apache County, Arizona. Fladry is an effective coexistence tool. The bright moving flags repel wolves, thereby deterring livestock depredations. Defenders senior southwest representative Craig Miller discussing the effectiveness of turbo-fladry, red flagging combined with a hot wire, in deterring livestock depredations. This fladry is installed on a grazing allotment in Apache County, Arizona. Turbo-fladry in Apache County, Arizona. The red flags and hot wire are strung on pasture fences and deter wolves from approaching livestock. The use of turbo-fladry and other tools help ranching to coexist with Mexican gray wolf recovery. Radio Activated Guard of “RAG” box in Arizona. RAG boxes are installed on fences. An approaching wolf’s radio collar triggers a flashing light and loud alarm, which sends the wolf running and deters depredations on livestock. A Mexican gray wolf yearling from the Fox Mountain pack, taken by a remote camera trap in February of 2012. Defenders senior Southwest representative Craig Miller speaks with a rancher about techniques for avoiding conflicts between wolves and ranching. Defenders senior Southwest representative and a rancher strike an agreement on effective coexistence measures to help prevent livestock depredations on his grazing allotment. A range rider uses a telemetry tracking device to pick up signals from the wolves that are outfitted with radio collars. Knowing where wolves are and the direction they’re heading before moving cattle helps avoid conflicts. Range riders drift cattle through wolf territory on a grazing allotment in New Mexico. Range riders are an effective coexistence measure to ward off livestock depredations, as wolves will avoid areas where riders are present. Two tribal members from the Turkey Creek Livestock Association remove a livestock carcass. Livestock carcasses can attract wolves and other predators. Removing them as soon as possible prevents predators from feeding on the carcass and stops the potential for habituation, where animals will keep coming back to the same spot to feed. A range rider on an allotment in Arizona keeps watch over a producer’s livestock to help prevent depredations. Range riders are an effective coexistence measure to ward off livestock depredations, as wolves will avoid areas where riders are present. Craig Miller is a Southwest Representative for Defenders of Wildlife Craig Miller, Senior Southwest Representative Craig has led Defenders’ regional wolf and jaguar conservation programs since 1993. He has served on the federal recovery teams for the cactus-ferruginous pygmy-owl and the gray wolf and currently serves on the executive committee of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project.