Wednesday, June 27, 2012

State, wildlife advocates strive for wolf solutions

Parties agree on need for more radio collars

Express Staff Writer

Members of the Wood River Wolf Project track wolves north of Ketchum in 2008. Photo by Mountain Express

Wolf advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife and state wildlife officials agreed on at least one thing during a workshop at the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters on Thursday—the state needs more radio-collared wolves.

Stewart Breck, a researcher with federal Wildlife Service's National Wildlife Research Center in Colorado, said that telemetry, or using radio signals to determine where wolves are on a landscape, is "crucial" to the success of non-lethal wolf deterrent programs.

"Having people aware of wolves helps them to adaptively respond to the presence of these wolves," he said. "Knowing where the wolves are on the landscape is a very helpful component."

Currently, however, there are only 30 collared wolves in the entire state—and none in Blaine County, where the success of the non-lethal deterrent program known as the Wood River Wolf Project has the eyes of researchers across the nation.

Almost two dozen scientists, field technicians, wildlife officials, summer interns and elected officials gathered at the SNRA on Thursday to discuss the history of the Wood River Wolf Project as well as its current efforts and possible applications to other areas.

Liz Jozwiak, field project coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, said that radio collars have been crucial to her work, most because tracking the wolves allows her to see how effective the non-lethal deterrents have been.

She said there is at least one collar in each pack, which allows herders to see if packs are approaching and if the deterrents do their jobs.

"When the Mexican Wolf population increases, we won't be able to have a collar on every wolf out there," she said. "But for now, it's a good tool."

The problem with getting radio collars on wolves in Idaho is that the species has been delisted, said Hilary Cooley, Gray Wolf Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal funding for wolf projects dropped 25 percent just last year, and will be eliminated completely in five years.

But Todd Sullivan, district supervisor for Wildlife Services in Idaho, said the lack of radio collars harms his process, too, when problem wolves must be exterminated.

"Inevitably, when we have wolves we have to deal with, this helps us find them," Sullivan said. "It's a time-saving thing."

Due to Defenders of Wildlife's private fundraising, spokeswoman Suzanne Stone said, the project might be able to help pay for those collars. Sullivan told Stone that Wildlife Services could take advantage of any money the organization offered and would be able to use department crews to trap and collar the animals.

"If we were to have some funding, we certainly would be able to put radio collars out there to be used by Defenders and by the state," he said.

Since the project started in 2008, no wolves have been killed within the project areas. Though some sheep have been lost, Lava Lake Lamb president Mike Stevens said the band he lost in 2009—over a dozen sheep lost due to a miscommunication among bands—was a learning experience.

"The one major depredation was actually a success," he said.

Stone clarified, saying that the depredation proved that the fladry and other methods used to deter wolves had actually worked on one band.

Herders with the protected Lava Lake herd had experienced the wolves testing the boundaries of their night corrals, but were able to drive the wild canines off. The wolves moved roughly half a mile away to another, unprotected band and were able to kill 14 sheep.

"It was an accidental control [group] for us," Stone said. "It really showed us what the value of that program was."

Eventually, Stone told Sullivan, she hopes to see non-lethal deterrents become part of the state's official wolf management plan.

"We hope that's going to be your job," she told Sullivan. "Once these tools get proven, we think [Wildlife Services is] probably in the best position to utilize these tools."

Kate Wutz:

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