Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wolves kill seven sheep in Oregon Gulch

Sheep owner requests non-lethal action

Express Staff Writer

Idaho Department of Fish and Game Large Carnivore Manager Steve Nadeau says it has never been difficult to keep both wolves and sheep alive once they?ve found each other. But in the northern Wood River Valley, wildlife managers and a sheep rancher are trying to do just that. Photo by Jason Kauffman

Rather than try to remove the gray wolves that killed seven domestic sheep northwest of Ketchum last week, an official with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has elected to pursue non-lethal methods to keep the wolves away.

The decision to pursue non-lethal methods was made after the owner of the sheep requested the wolves not be killed, Fish and Game Large Carnivore Manager Steve Nadeau said Tuesday.

"The livestock producer wanted to work with us to explore all options to keep his stock and the wolves alive," Nadeau said.

Nadeau said he has agreed to that plan.

The sheep-killing incident occurred on two separate days—July 10 and 12—in a remote portion of the upper Oregon Gulch area. The sheep band was being grazed on a Sawtooth National Forest grazing allotment that covers the area.

The wolves responsible for killing the sheep are from the newly documented Phantom Hill wolf pack, which officers from Fish and Game's Magic Valley Region determined in June has established a den in the upper Wood River Valley. The pack's alpha female gave birth to three wolf pups earlier this spring.

Nadeau said whenever a livestock-killing incident occurs in which wolves or other predators are involved, various lethal and non-lethal methods are considered.

Before the incident last week, one wolf in the Phantom Hill pack had already been fitted with a radio collar so the pack's movements could be tracked, he said. Following up on the sheep-killing incident, Fish and Game officers were able to place another radio collar on the pack's alpha male on Saturday, July 14.

So the movements of the wolf pack can be better monitored, radio transceivers have been given to one of the sheepherders looking after the remaining band as well as a volunteer with the Fish and Game, Nadeau said. He said the transceivers will allow the sheepherder to know if the wolves are coming too close to the sheep.

The agency has also issued non-lethal rubber bullets to the livestock producer to use to scare the wolves away if they return to harass the sheep band.

"It's never an easy thing to keep wolves and sheep alive once they have found each other," Nadeau said. "But we will do everything we can to keep the conflict minimized."

The non-lethal control methods were chosen after the livestock producer met with representatives from Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services and the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife.

"We are hoping to keep the sheep and wolves alive long enough that once the sheep move off the range the conflict will be resolved," Nadeau said.

At a public hearing in Boise tomorrow, the public will have the opportunity to comment on a proposal to revise the federal rule governing when wolves may be shot. The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 19, at the Boise Centre on the Grove convention center. The public hearing will be preceded by an open house at 6 p.m. at which information on wolf recovery and related issues will be provided.

The proposed changes to the federal 10(j) rule would expand the situations in which wolves can be killed for depredations and to achieve wildlife management objectives. The existing rule, which allows wolves attacking livestock and herding and guarding animals to be killed under certain circumstances, was published in the Federal Register in 2005 and applies to areas south of U.S. Interstate 90 in Idaho and Montana.

Under the proposed changes—which the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—the rule would further allow the killing of wolves in areas where ungulate populations are not meeting the state's management objectives. The rule change would also allow the shooting of wolves that attack dogs on public land.

Another possibility under the proposed revision would give the states the ability to designate which agents take part in wolf control actions.

Express staff writer Jody Zarkos contributed to this story.

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