Federal officials have determined that an unknown number of wolves were responsible for recent attacks on three calves on the Cove Ranch south of Bellevue.
According to Todd Grimm, Western District supervisor in Idaho for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, the attacks likely occurred late in the evening last week, on Thursday or Friday. Two of the calves were killed, while the third calf's injuries are severe enough that it's also expected to die.
Last week's attacks come at a time when a partnership among Wood River Valley sheep ranchers, environmentalists and state and federal officials is set to expand across Blaine County. For the past three years, the Wood River Wolf Project has been employing proactive, non-lethal measures in the valley north of Ketchum to decrease the number of sheep kills by wolves. The project's successes keeping domestic sheep bands and wolves separate have garnered it widespread praise.
The project's methods include electrified night pens for corralling sheep, using more livestock guard dogs and keeping rangelands free of sheep carcasses, a powerful attractant for wolves. The Wood River Wolf Project was launched in 2008, about a year after the newly formed Phantom Hill wolf pack was implicated in the deaths of about a dozen sheep.
Wildlife Services agents have confirmed that one of the deaths on the Cove Ranch was wolf-caused, and have called the other death a "probable" wolf kill, Grimm said. All three of the 250-pound calves were born this year.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has granted a 60-day kill order for the offending wolves. Wildlife Services agents have already set traps on the ranch to try to capture the wolves.
Wildlife Services will consider the case closed if it is able to capture and kill wolves in the vicinity of the ranch.
"If we can catch them in that area, we're going to assume they're the offending wolves," Grimm said.
In recent years, the number of wolf reports coming out of the foothills east and north of the communities of Gannett and Picabo has increased. Wolves have also been reported passing through some of the lower agricultural lands in the Bellevue Triangle.
Grimm said that based on the amount of meat consumed after the attacks, more than one wolf was likely involved.
"We're definitely talking about multiple wolves," he said. "But I don't think it's a huge amount of wolves. I don't think there's 10 of them."
On Monday, participants of the Wood River Wolf Project met in Hailey to discuss the upcoming grazing season. During the discussions attended by local sheep ranchers, Forest Service and Fish and Game officials, and representatives from nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, talk turned to whether the project should expand its focus both geographically and to include cattle ranchers.
Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen, a participant in the meeting, said Tuesday that the Cove Ranch attacks underscore the need to expand the project's focus. During the regular commission meeting Tuesday, Schoen described the Wood River Wolf Project's new approach as being akin to a "response team approach." The expansion may also include new grazing areas not covered by the project.
In the past three years, field crews hired by Defenders of Wildlife worked closely with individual sheep bands grazing in the Sawtooth National Forest's Ketchum Ranger District. The crews monitored wolf activity and helped herders set up electrified night pens for corralling the sheep at night, when most wolf attacks occur.
Schoen is working with the project to plan a public demonstration event for Blaine County ranchers during which the proactive methods will be displayed. They hope to hold the event in late July at the county fairgrounds in Carey.