Wood River team, © Defenders of Wildlife

Saving Wolves in Idaho

Coexistence with Wolves Gains Ground in Idaho

The night sky was completely dark except for the light from the Milky Way when I heard the dogs starting to growl. They could hear movement in the woods near the sheep bedgrounds and were automatically on guard. Wolves were denned not far away but I couldn’t yet tell what had the Great Pyrenees on edge. A few sheep baaed sleepily in response to the growls. The band of ewe sheep had been anxious lately after their lambs had been separated from them to be shipped to market. In the starlight, I could still make out the snowcapped peaked of central Idaho’s majestic Sawtooth Mountains across the valley.

Wood River camp, © Defenders of Wildlife

Sleeping in small tents right near the flocks of sheep helps to deter wolves from preying on them during the night.

The wind stirred fluttering the aspen leaves in the trees around me as the dogs starting circling around the sheep, growling deeply. In the distance, a wolf howled and filled the valley with his lonely song. Coyotes quickly chimed in over the hills to our east. I scrambled out of my sleeping bag and searched for my flashlight but couldn’t find it. I did find the telemetry scanner and flipped it on. Given the summer temperatures, the Forest Service had set a ban on campfires and I could feel the sudden chill of the damp night air. I hadn’t slept well earlier that night because of the noise from the sheep band. The ewes were calling for their lambs until they finally settled down. Even calm sheep are noisy at night though. Whoever invented the fable about counting sheep at night to get a restful sleep had clearly never spent the night with the wooly beasts. My teeth were chattering as I scanned for radio signals. Bingo. The loud steady beep confirmed that the alpha male was close by.

This was my first night on my own at sheep camp as part of the new wolf guardians program, and the year was 1999. I listened to the two dogs as they paced. They were growing even more defensive. A wolf howled closer this time from the direction of the telemetry signal and then gave two short warning barks. Oh great. A train wreck was getting ready to take place. Wolves are usually wary of dogs but these wolves had pups nearby to protect. I had warned the sheep owner that moving his band toward the den site would likely cause a reaction from the wolves as they perceive that the dogs are just funny looking strange wolves and strange wolves are a serious threat to their pups. The dogs started barking loudly and charging toward the sound. I didn’t have any more time to look for my flashlight or my boots. Instead I grabbed the first things that I could find – a metal pot and a wooden spoon! – and charged out toward the direction of the signal clanging away on the pot and yelling at the top of my lungs. Seconds later, I could hear a large animal running away through the brush and splashing across the small creek. Half an hour later, the dogs settled back down and I spent the rest of the night watching for falling stars. I counted dozens before I finally drifted off to sleep before dawn. That night happened 15 years ago; just five years after wolves were reintroduced to Idaho. It was the beginning of my efforts to help local ranchers adapt to co-existing with wolves using nonlethal deterrents to protect their livestock and to help keep wolves from being killed in response to preying on sheep and cattle.

Fladry fence, © Defenders of Wildlife

Nonlethal tools like fladry have proven extremely effective at deterring wolves from livestock without killing them.

Nonlethal deterrents were ridiculed in those early days. I knew that telling people that I chased off a wolf with a wooden spoon and a metal pot wouldn’t help convince the skeptics so I didn’t share that part of the story with many of the managers at the time. Fladry was a brand new tool being tested (and laughed at) in the Salmon River country. Radio activated guard systems that blared out everything from the sounds of helicopters to rifles firing and even rock music when they detected a wolf’s radio signal were being tested and revised for broader use. Few ranchers were willing to embrace these new (and some very old) techniques and were encouraged by the federal Wildlife Services’ agents to ignore them and stick with traditional lethal control. A few people stuck with the new tools though. Rick Williamson from USDA Wildlife Services in Idaho revolutionized the fladry system by making it electrified. His wife Carol built miles and miles of the new “turbofladry” by hand on her sewing machine. Rick received a national award for his innovative efforts from USDA, yet many of his colleagues refused to ever try the methods because they felt it would seem to the ranchers like they accepted wolves on the landscape when most deeply resented them.

This week, we held a workshop and field tour highlighting more than a decade of refining and adding new nonlethal tools to our program at the site of the largest nonlethal wolf and sheep coexistence project in the region. In central Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest – a sheep superhighway and also wolf territory – Blaine County ranchers, county, state and federal agencies, and local wolf advocates are working together to effectively resolve conflicts using nonlethal wolf management and livestock husbandry methods. These methods include deterrents like fladry, livestock guard dogs, and electric fencing, that dramatically reduce or eliminate livestock losses and build social acceptance for wolves. And the results are undeniable. For the last six years, a total of more than 100,000 sheep and lambs have grazed across this area amidst wolf packs. Yet fewer than 30 sheep have been killed in the project area during this time, and no wolves have been killed by government agencies in the project area. Check out the coverage of our workshop on the local news:

These nonlethal control methods are cheaper than lethal wolf management, and Blaine County also has the lowest rate of livestock losses in the state. If you’re interested in learning more about these methods, let us know. We’re always eager to encourage those who have an open mind on the value of working together to resolve conflicts effectively by protecting both livestock and wolves.

For the wild ones,
Suzanne

 

Suzanne Stone is the Senior Rockies & Plains Representative for Defenders of Wildlife

33 Responses to “Saving Wolves in Idaho”

  1. MikeBPhotography

    Great to hear that people can put their differences aside, for the greater good.
    Coexistance is the key to a balanced ecology.
    Congradulations to the ranchers with enough consideration and foresight to participate. These, and only these ranchers are worthy to graze on our public lands.

    Reply
  2. Marsha

    Hate to say this but……..you’re saving the lambs/sheep from the wolves, only to ship the poor lambs to a horrible death in the slaughterhouses. Hello????? Feed the wolves then…….they need it more than we do In this country.

    Reply
    • Maryann Murphy

      I thought the same thing-ranchers love their animals for the money-period.
      None the less to save our wolves we applaud this project! If they kill livestock they will be killed…if we don`t eat lamb or meat it would be better…then the conflict would not exist!

  3. Suzanne Stone

    Hi Marsha,
    We respect that people like you are vegetarians and have chosen not to eat meat and that is fantastic. Not many people in our country have made that choice. Until then, ranchers will still be raising cattle and sheep for human consumption and those animals are protected from local predators by an agency called Wildlife Services. Last year alone, Wildlife Services killed millions of animals including hundreds of wolves to protect livestock from predation. While this is the reality on the ground in the west (and we are working hard to change that) the best hope for wolves is these nonlethal deterrents that reduce livestock predation. Wolves don’t need to eat sheep here in Idaho. They have abundant native prey (elk, deer, moose). And ranching is a deeply embedded way of life in the west. Some ranchers have chosen to coexist with wolves and that is the best hope for wolves in our region. It doesn’t have to be either/or. Thanks for your comments and the chance to address your concerns.

    Reply
  4. Elzi

    I know this can work. I know because my sheep ranch was in the midst of cougar and coyote country. With no predation. The problem is working with ranchers and wildlife agents (even university livestock managers) to convince them it works and is economical before they will even consider implementing these techniques. A common observation is that many agriculturalists (including livestock managers/owners) are resistant to change. They are resistant to change, even when it is beneficial to themselves and their productivity. This has been documented throughout history.

    The more ranchers that get on board implementing these changes, the more will follow. Instead of insulting them, which tends to alienate them further, work with them, demonstrating how to implement changes and how it benefits them in the short and long term. A more difficult hurdle is appealing to state and, especially, the federal Wildlife Services. That needs to come from top-down change.

    Glad to see this effort growing and kudos to the NGO for increasing public awareness and education. Now we need to target this towards the ranchers as you are doing, and policy makers.

    Reply
  5. Alexander Yeung

    There is still hope of peace and coexistence between rancher and wolves. We must get other rancher to use this non lethal tactics without killing them. Increasing public awareness and truthful education is a good idea.

    Reply
  6. mzaz

    Humans are the worst breed of animal. They kill because they can. These animals were here long before us. They need to be protected not slaughtered. They are on this earth for a purpose of keeping the population of fast breeding animals like rabbits and rodents down which in turn keeps diseases down. Every animal on this earth serves a purpose.

    Reply
  7. Norma Campbell

    Wonderful account great progress I totally agree with everything said by all except what Mzaz said “Every animal on this earth serves a purpose” we are animals all we do is screw up the balance especially when we try to “manage nature” will we ever learn. We have no purpose, this earth would continue on better without us.

    Reply
  8. Burdel Horner

    I am not a rancher but am totally commitex to the preservation of wildlife, no matter what species. As I observe natural wildlife in northern Wisconsin, I watch all types of animals, fowl and fish live with the natural order if life. The weak and sick are the ones left behind or preyed upon for the natural order of our wildlife. Humans have created their own problems by encroaching the areas of these beautiful species. It seems the time is not far off when our days of observing animals in the wild, in a natural setting, will be gone because they are not appreciated enough by our government law makers. We “all” need to share our gift of life that has been given to many species.

    Reply
  9. Judi

    Glad to know that a young boy in a central Africa tribe isn’t the only one to figure out how to preserve both his family’s cattle and the would-be predators, without harm to anyone or the planet!

    Reply
  10. Phyllis Prichard

    I am so happy not only for the sheep and the wolves, but also for the sheep ranchers who seem to have found such an amazingly simple answer to a long-time problem. Wolves have gotten such a bad reputation for just doing what comes naturally to them…killing in order to eat. They can’t go to the local grocery store and buy their food as people do. So people must accept the fact that it is up to them to force the wolves to go back to relying on their natural prey…deer, moose, elk, etc. Wolves have just as much right to be here as humans do, and it’s time for us to accept that fact and do as this group has done…find peaceful methods to attain that goal!!

    Reply
  11. Frank Gorecki

    Suzanne, first of all thank you and your team for pioneering these nonlethal methods and showing all of us that they work. Here in Washington state we have approximately 53 wolves, a fraction of what exists in Idaho, so our wolf population is very vulnerable and in the short term should still be listed as endangered. In the long term, I hope to participate in employing the nonlethal methods to protect a robust Washington wolf population.

    Reply
  12. Terry Holland

    The killing of these beatiful wolf needs to STOP, they were here before we were, the native americans learned from the aniamals not hurt them, they only killed what was needed to live, the wolves are great sprit aniamls, they teach us thing if we well only learn from them not KILL them, we would be better off in this world, Wolves are our FRIENDS , so lets LEARN not Killing, STOP THE KILLING!!!!!!

    Reply
  13. Middle

    Thank goodness some people still exhibit consciousness and are willing to stand up for innocent victims of human greed. I hope these good works are continued and multiplied. It’s actions like these that deserve news spotlight and awareness.

    Reply
  14. Jeffrey Lepre

    I think that this is a great idea to integrate the wildlife so that they can coexist together without fear of predation. I definitely support this !!

    Reply
  15. Mack

    Ranchers are always seeking the most economical methods of protecting their investment, and enhanced fladry is one which works, although wolves adapt to plain ol’ fladry.
    What we would klike to see is the program expanded to Montana, where recent law allows ranchers to kill wolves deemed likely to affect their economics.

    A word on some corruption in reportage of predation: Although it is well-known that domestic dogs are far, far greater sources of livestock death, we can see by reported losses,
    http://www.wildearthguardians.org/images/content/pagebuilder/Cattle_losses_by_rank.jpg
    that predation claims may be used by ranchers to both claim and collect fraudulently.
    The Turkey Vulture a shy bird of about 4 1/2 lb average adult, is claimed as a killer of more livestock than are wolves. Those who observe and study this bird (the Black Vulture only occurs in the far south and east of the USA, is a little larger and stands accused of attacking newborns, weighs about a pound to two more) understand that no predation is done by this animal.

    USDA APHIS and Wildlife Services extravagantly grant credence to claims by ranchers of predation when in reality, even much of these range losses are due to illness or accident, and so figures can be expected to be in actuality far, far smaller than reported losses due to predation.

    Reply
  16. John Sully

    As a keystone species, the Red Wolf and all wolves area necessary part of the ecosystem. Without them, all natural ecosystems become out of balance and will ultimately disappear.

    Reply
  17. Pamela Barlow

    Hi
    I am in full support of saving our wolves don’t have cash but have been an Activist all my life if that helps I always spread the word
    much luv p

    Reply
  18. Candace

    MZAZ you completely summed it up. Thank you for your comment…..Candie Unzueta

    Reply
  19. Ann Hurst

    Thanks to Suzanne Stone and Defenders for making these tremendous efforts to protect our wolves. I appreciate what you are doing more than I can say. It’s a blessing to know that so many care about these issues and that ranchers are giving it a try. While their numbers are small, these ranchers inspire others and hopefully will grow over the next years. Thanks again.

    Reply
  20. Pattie

    Thank God for people like Suzanne in protecting our wolves. It is so obvious that the slaughter of the wolf is caused by commercial outfitters and politicians who want to kill the Idaho wolves to keep elk herds for hunters, and of course, money. As far as the sheep, I have heard how Lamas are good protector of the sheep. There are ways to not only protect the sheep, but in its own way, also the wolf. Give them a chance!

    Reply
  21. Brenda Korte

    This is great! This is one of most creative and intelligent inventions and yet most cost effective. Mankind needs to put against its’ indifference, egos, fear and use their livestock and stop killing one of the most eco-system needed wolves. This will keep infestation of disease and other parasites. It will in turn provide stability to our universe without killing what is most needed. Remember, mankind has harmed most of our lands and oceans because of inconvenience or fear. There are wonderful and intelligent people out there. God bless them.

    Reply
  22. Brenda Korte

    This is great! This is one of most creative and intelligent inventions and yet most cost effective. Mankind needs to put against its’ indifference, egos, fear of loosing their livestock; and, stop killing one of the most eco-system needed–wolves. This will keep infestation of disease and other parasites. It will in turn provide stability to our universe without killing what is most needed. Remember, mankind has harmed most of our lands and oceans because of inconvenience or fear. There are wonderful and intelligent people out there. God bless them.

    Reply
  23. Lady Jo

    How exciting that we are making such great progress to end the senseless killing of wolves and all our wildlife. We can co-exist in peaceful ways! I am so happy that I support this wonderful organization that effortlessly works to accomplish saving our planets animals and our planets balance. Thank you all so much for your hard work, commitment & dedication.

    Reply
  24. marc fried

    Please send me info on how to become involved in the new wolf guardians program as a particpant – I’m retired and free to travel and relocate : please advise…
    MSF

    Reply
  25. Toni

    I think it is despicable that Idaho held a contest this year…a contest of CHILDREN to see who could kill the most wolves. These magnificent ancestors of our dogs deserve respect and admiration. They balance wildlife better than an human
    animal…and they don’t kill for sport!

    Reply
  26. Sylvia Zade-Routier

    It is important that wolves keep living where they belong. They have as much right to their own territory, moreover, they are important for the ecosystem balance. Sylvia Zade-Routier, film maker and journalist.

    Reply

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