A U.S. Wildlife Services official said Monday that his department has the authority to kill three wolves following an attack on domestic sheep on Flat Top Ranch near Carey.
George Graves, assistant state director for the Idaho division of U.S. Wildlife Services, said a Wildlife Services pilot spotted six dead sheep from the air Monday. He said they were killed over the weekend or early Monday. An additional two dead sheep were found Tuesday.
However, he stated that the kill order was issued last Wednesday, likely in response to several sheep that were killed on the ranch on Monday, May 28.
"We have authority as of last Wednesday to take up to three wolves," Graves said. "Right now, it's any wolves, but those three wolves are ones we hope will be associated with the depredation."
Most recent estimates from Wildlife Services state that only three to four adult wolves remain in the pack following a completed kill order earlier this month.
Graves said he does not believe the pack reproduced this year, and that wildlife officials on the ground have not seen signs of pups, such as pup tracks, natal dens or rendezvous sites where adult wolves leave pups with a caretaker while hunting elsewhere.
Suzanne Stone, spokesperson for Defenders of Wildlife, said her field technicians from the Wood River Wolf Project, an organization dedicated to nonlethal wolf deterrents, aren't sure how many adult wolves remain.
"There are several," she said, but added that there are no radio collars in the pack, which makes it difficult to say for certain. She said it is "absolutely" possible that the kill order would wipe out the entire Little Wood Pack.
Flat Top Ranch owner John Peavey said his ranch has lost a total of 34 sheep this year—far more than at this time last year, and all due to wolf predation.
"The wolves broke the back of some of the lambs," he said. "I assume they didn't eat them. The wolves don't eat anything."
Peavey said he is currently practicing a form of management known as "range lambing," where bands of sheep travel and are left in smaller groups with lambs as the ewes give birth.
"You end up with little bunches of 30 to 40 sheep in every canyon," he said. "It's really important to leave those ewes alone and not to disturb them."
Peavey said he's been practicing range lambing for six years, and models the practice on lambing done by producers in Utah and Wyoming. He won't use lambing sheds, he said, because then he would have to feed the ewes hay and grain rather than the natural forage found on his property. It's expensive, he said, and worse for the sheep.
"We're using solar energy on land that can't raise corn and can't raise wheat," he said. "It's the most wholesome meat product on the planet."
Stone said the Wood River Wolf Project has made multiple recommendations for Peavey's operation, including setting up fladry—brightly colored pieces of cloth—around his lambing bands and grouping smaller bands into larger ones.
"That's how other ranchers are doing it in Blaine County," she said.
But Peavey said that recommendation just isn't practical for his operation.
"It's extremely difficult to work with fladry in sagebrush," he said. "It's hard to put up, and it's very, very hard to retrieve."
Stone has said Peavey should promptly remove sheep carcasses from the area, and added that she has seen some that are over a month old on his property.
"Those attractants are pretty compelling for animals like wolves and coyotes," she said. "Once they are drawn into an area like that, it's as easy for them to kill a sheep as to eat an old carcass."
But Peavey said the carcasses aren't the problem, and it helps lessen the impact of coyote depredation. A coyote will return to a carcass over and over, he said, rather than killing another sheep. At any rate, he said, he does remove carcasses from the sheep bands within a few days.
"We remove the carcasses," he said. "The depredations have always been in an area where there has been no depredation before."
Graves said he has a tracker on the ground searching for the pack, with the Wildlife Services plane flying overhead. The kill order is in effect for about two months.
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