Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ranchers, wolf advocates can both achieve goals

The return of the gray wolf is among the most ecologically successful, politically controversial and socially polarized wildlife restoration efforts in our region. Despite this, a new collaborative project has taken root here in Blaine County to mediate wolf and livestock conflicts.

In 2007, a newly formed wolf pack began preying on sheep in central Idaho's "sheep superhighway" on the Sawtooth National Forest during the summer grazing season. Wolf conservationists, ranchers, scientists and government officials collaborated to test non-lethal deterrents to prevent further losses in our study area. The new partnership is called the Wood River Wolf Project and during our first three-year study, documented sheep losses to wolves in the project area dropped to 0.05 percent of available sheep (90 percent lower than Idaho loss rates statewide) and no wolves were killed because of depredation conflicts. The benefits include reduced management costs, reduced social conflict, and increased ecological functionality and wolf pack stability.

Our recent goal is to expand the project to a countywide basis. Project success relies not only on a range of effective, affordable deterrents, but on trust among the project partners and a willingness among all of us to imagine new solutions. As the project expands, we're encountering new challenges. The situation in the Little Wood drainage has tested everyone involved and is yet unresolved. Wolves and coyotes and sheep are still dying there. But our goal is to build a record of successful coexistence between wildlife and livestock interests across the county wherever possible. It remains our hope to achieve this in a collaborative partnership with the Flat Top Ranch as a new example of how our community can work together. By taking the steps needed to protect sheep and wolves and other native wildlife, we can all achieve our goals.

Suzanne Stone


Defenders of Wildlife

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