Roughly 30 local ranchers gathered at the fairgrounds in Carey, Idaho, last week to talk wolves. But this was far from the typical wolf discussion. The workshop, possibly the first of many hosted by Defenders of Wildlife, took an unusual and widely unacknowledged tack: Don't shoot the predator, protect the prey.
The morning served as a crash course in a host of non-lethal deterrents to wolf predation, from guard dogs to grazing rotations. It also marked the first attempt by Defenders to share with the public lessons learned over the past three years by the Wood River Wolf Project. Defenders of Wildlife spokeswoman Suzanne Stone says the project has field-tested numerous tools for decreasing livestock losses to predators, an approach that replaces the habit of killing problem animals with the concept of coexistence.
"If you do nothing and kind of rely on the traditional lethal control methods routinely used by [U.S. Department of Agriculture] Wildlife Services for the states, then you're not really addressing the problem," Stone says. "You're just perpetuating it...Dead wolves don't learn lessons."
If the Wood River Wolf Project doesn't ring any bells, it's no surprise to Stone. The project, now in its fourth year, has intentionally sought little press coverage, she says. Meanwhile, participants have used guard dogs, noisemakers and lights to haze wolves away from the project's 10,000 sheep. They've even tested an Eastern European wolf deterrent called fladry, a type of fencing that uses long vertical strips of red fabric to frighten wolves and coyotes.
Stone says Defenders was "nervous" about hosting last week's coexistence demonstration. "We've been trying to fly under the radar on this project for quite some time," she says. "We just don't try to make any kind of public news about [these projects] because the wolf debate is so controversial that it puts a lot of pressure on the ranchers who are partnering with us."
The demonstration came fast on the heels of news that Idaho's 2011-2012 wolf hunt will be governed by some of the most lax regulations to date. Quotas are virtually nonexistent across most of the state. Nonresident licenses were knocked down to $31.75 earlier this month. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission increased the bag limit from one wolf to two wolves per hunter. And they've added a trapping-season component to the hunt, further increasing the potential wolf harvest over the next seven months.