No-kill wolf ban spurs nonlethal options
For the past year, Oregon has been a 'wolf-safe' zone, with ranchers turning to nonlethal ways to protect livestock. While the number of wolves has gone up, livestock kills haven't.
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Seen as a scourge on the landscape, wolves were nearly wiped out across the Lower 48 by the 1930s. In 1995, the federal government sponsored the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. They eventually spread to Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and California.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Can there be peace in the Wolf Wars?
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With wolf numbers approaching 1,800, the federal government dropped Endangered Species Act protection in 2011 in the Northern Rockies, eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, and turned over recovery management to the states.
While ranchers are not happy with the wolf comeback, the wider public is. A 2011 survey for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife found 74.5 percent of Washington residents believe it acceptable for wolves to recolonize their state.
Wolf advocates hope the Oregon experiment can spread elsewhere, especially Idaho, which had 746 wolves in 2011. In 2012, hunters and wildlife agents killed 422 wolves, compared with 296 for 2011. Sheep and cattle kills, meantime, went up from 192 in 2011 to 341 in 2012.
Idaho Fish and Game biologist Craig White said it "raised eyebrows" on both sides of the wolf debate when the livestock kills rose even as more wolves were killed. Previously the trend had been for livestock kills to go down as wolf kills went up. The state plans to continue killing wolves until elk herds — their primary prey and a popular game animal — start increasing, he said.
The Idaho numbers show "you can't manage wolves using conventional wisdom and assumption," said Suzanne Stone of Defenders of Wildlife in Idaho. "Using these old archaic methods of managing predators by just killing them is not working."
In "no-kill" Oregon, ranchers disagree. Wallowa rancher Dennis Sheehy puts bells on his cattle to help scare away wolves. He also spends more time with his herd, and cleans up old bone piles. Nevertheless, he believes a kill option should always be on the table for wolves that prey on livestock. The 2011 ban, he said, "really upset people around here."
Patton has never lost a cow while using the fladry and alarms. But two were killed on the open range and one in a large pasture where such protection measures are impractical. He has also found tracks showing wolves crossed the fladry and walked among his cows without, for some reason, attacking them.
He still believes the only way to deal with wolves that attack cattle is to kill the whole pack.
"It's frustrating, more than anything, because we have our hands tied," he said. "You can kill a man [who] comes into your house to rob you. Wolves are more protected than people."