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For the week of June 21 through June 27, 2000

Wolf experiment

Fish and Wildlife approves wolf deterring rubber buckshot

Express Staff Writer

By next spring, selected Idaho ranchers should be able to shoot rubber bullets at wolves that pose a threat to grazing livestock.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Idaho wolf recovery leader Roy Heberger, approval for use of the negative reinforcement-inflicting rubber and Styrofoam bullets came from Fish and Wildlife’s Washington D.C. offices this month.

Heberger said in a telephone interview on Monday with the Idaho Mountain Express he’s not yet sure if the projectiles will be bullets or buckshot.

"This could go a long way toward preventing wolves from preying on livestock, and, in turn, cut down on the number of lethal control actions," Heberger said.

The idea is quite simple, he said. Wolves that enter ranch property to prey on livestock could be shot with the rubber projectiles, likely from a 12- gauge shotgun, and would associate cattle and ranch property with pain.

"Basically we would be training wolves not to prey on livestock," Heberger said.

Though details are still not worked out, Heberger said he hopes the program can be in place by next spring’s calving season.

This spring, members of the White Cloud Wolf Pack became habituated to preying on calves in the East Fork of the Salmon River drainage, east of the White Cloud Mountains, and pack members were killed in response.

Heberger said that, were the tool available this spring, he would have issued permits for use of the rubber buckshot to several East Fork ranchers.

Exact criteria by which permits will be issued are not yet set, but Heberger said there will be "very limited issuance."

"We’re not talking about something where we’d be putting a lot of permits out," he said.

Idaho’s wolf recovery program is relatively new in comparison with that of Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources oversees management of between 2,500 and 3,000 wolves statewide.

According to Minnesota wolf management specialist Mike DonCarlos, "The most effective wolf control in Minnesota is lethal control."

He said certain negative reinforcement measures have been taken in Minnesota, though rather unsuccessfully. Rubber projectiles, he said, have not been used on wolves there.

Nationwide, rubber bullets and buckshot are commonly used to negatively reinforce undesirable black bear behavior such as eating human trash or raiding bird feeders.

According to Idaho Department of Fish and Game conservation officer Lee Frost, rubber bullets "do seem to have the desired effects."

"The few instances that we’ve had the opportunity to do it, it seems to work really well. You create a pretty negative experience for [the bears], and they shy away from that particular location, at least," he said in an interview.

Frost admitted that he doesn’t have any experience dealing with wolves, but said wolves are certainly smart animals that should be able to learn from negative experiences.

"It’s probably something we should be trying before we get too far into the run and gun mentality," he said.


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