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June 2008

June 25, 2008

Exciting News in Washington State!

It seems as though there might already been wolves living and reproducing in Washington State! Stay tuned for more information.

June 24, 2008

New Sawtooth Proactive Project

In April I talked about a project that we are involved in up in the Sawtooth Mountains. This project officially started last Thursday with a training day for our field technicians and some of the sheep herders in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

Rick_flagery_2 Rick Williamson demonstrates the use of turbo fladry

Defenders of Wildlife, Idaho Fish and Game, US Forest Service, Wildlife Services and a number of different sheep producers are working together on a project that will use a number of different tools to try and keep the wolves out of the sheep bands that graze in this area. We practiced using the telemetry equipment that will help us locate the wolves and give us an idea of how close to the sheep they might be. We also practiced setting up RAG boxes and fladry, two non-lethal wolf deterrents that I have talked about earlier in this blog. These tools would be used if we know that there are wolves close at hand, or if we are near a wolf den or rendezvous site. We also issued the field technicians with a few noise makers such as air horns so they will be able to scare the wolves off if they get to close to the livestock. These technicians will work mainly during early evening through to morning, as this is the time that wolves are most active. As the herders set up camp, and the sheep start to bed down, the technicians will turn on their telemetry equipment and start their nights work scanning for wolves.

TransmitterA filed technician uses telemetry to track collared wolves

The technicians will work closely with the herders and producers to determine what are the best tools to use in any situation, and they will also advise the herders if they think that wolves are in the area. Any project like this depends on good communication between all organizations involved, and after a successful training day like the one we had, hopes are high going into this project.

I would like to thank Rick Williamson and Stewart Breck from Wildlife Services, Carter Niemeyer and Brad Lowe from Idaho Fish and Game, and Kurt Nelson and Mike O'Farrell from the Forest Service for helping to put this training day together.

Keep reading this blog to hear from the field technicians themselves about nights spent out in wolf country working with sheep bands.

June 19, 2008

Spotlight On: Larry Thorngren

Larrysheepshort700 A professional nature photographer, Larry Thorngren has spent many years studying animals.  One of his favorite is the North American Bighorn Sheep.  He did range studies for, and helped trap, wild bighorns in Canada for transplantation into central Idaho.  In the ensuing years wild sheep all over North American, and other animals, seem to find him irresistable as you'll see when you look at his photo galleries.

Enthusiasts worldwide including those from North America, Europe, and Japan have purchased and collected his photos.  He has been published in Italy, Australia and New Zealand in addition various publications in the United States.

During his spare time Larry spent 21 years teaching science and photography in the Idaho school system.  Many of his biology students have been inspired to go into careers in the natural sciences.

Larry was kind enough to answer the below questions for us:

Q). Some people believe that supporting a future for wolves and being a hunter are mutually exclusive. You were a hunter, yet you also support wildlife conservation -- how do the two go hand-in-hand?

A). I was interested in wildlife long before I was a hunter or a photographer. Carnation Corn Flakes cereal had Audubon Bird Cards included in the package when I was in grade school.  I ate a lot of corn flakes to get all of the cards. I knew most of the numerous species of birds on our Eastern Idaho farm near the Snake River by the age of 10.

For me, hunting or photography are reasons to get out of doors and observe wildlife.  Taking game or getting a good photo is simply a bonus to an enjoyable day in the wild.  My fondest memories have something to do with experiencing wildlife in action.

Q). How did you first become interested in shooting wildlife photography?

A). I photographed plants and animals to use for slide shows while teaching High School Biology  for 20 years in the Boise, Idaho School District.  I won National Wildlife Magazine's Photo Contest in 1980 and it was a natural progression to start selling some of my better photos.

Q). What is it - in your opinion - about wolves in this country that make people so passionate on both sides of the divide?

A). I think many of the anti-wolf people are actually afraid of wolves and other predators.  You get the same anti-predator response from them if you suggest putting Grizzlies back in Idaho Wilderness Areas. Pro-wolf people are more likely to be advocates for all wildlife, but some of them get very possessive and tend to think they own the wolves and seem to resent photographers or hunters who might get close to "their" wolves. 

For some reason, wolves invoke a response from some rather extreme folks from both sides of the issue. I am more of a moderate on wolves and don't fully understand what triggers such intensity. 

Q). How would you like to see wolves managed in the Northern Rockies?

A). I support a biological approach to wolf management. I think there is a middle ground between the "Shoot,Shovel and Shutup" crowd that wants all wolves removed and the "Save Every Wolf" bunch on the other end.  I would like hunting seasons set after proper biological data is collected .  The Idaho Fish and Game Commisioners set this years' wolf kill quota higher than that recommended by their own biologists. Emotional and political input seemed more important than biological assessment.

The wolf introduction has been a remarkable success and proper scientific management will insure wolves thrive in the Northern Rockies from now on.

Q). What is your favorite photo that you have taken of a wolf - and may we see it?

Hayden_pack_larry_thorngren_6353 A). I like my photo of the Hayden Pack pursuing elk in Yellowstone that I took just one day before they were decimated by the Mollie's Pack. IMG# 6353 - The image on the website is of a low resolution and doesn't do justice to the enlarged print I sell of it, but shows the wolves closeup and personal as they run along with the elk.

Q). Why do you believe that establishing a wolf viewing area is important in Idaho?

A). Wildlife viewers outnumber hunters by 3 to 1 in Idaho and other western states.  Wolves look their best in late fall at the same time that hunters are out in the field. There are open meadows in Bear Valley and near Ketchum that would ideal places for the non-hunting public to observe and photograph wolves. If all of Idaho is open to hunting wolves, the wolves will be so gun-shy that the opportunity for wildlife watchers to see wolves at close range just won't happen.

June 18, 2008

Helping Ranchers and Wolves

This Idaho Mountain Express article highlights the collaborative effort by Defenders of Wildlife and ranchers to make sure that wolves and livestock can coexist in the upper Wood River Valley.

June 13, 2008

Proactive hay purchase helps rancher, and wolves

Just north of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, in central Idaho, wolves are denning. This area is rich in wildlife such as elk and deer, and consists of thousands upon thousands of acres of wilderness and National Forest land it is certainly great wolf habitat.

In this region there are a number of ranchers who are getting ready to move their cattle, which consist of cow/calf pairs, from their private ranch land to their grazing allotments in the National Forests. In one rancher’s case though, he will be keeping his cattle on his ranch for a couple weeks longer this summer. It turns out that a wolf pack is denning right in the middle of his allotment, and he is worried about bringing his young calves right onto the doorstep of this wolf pack. He came to Defenders to see how we might help out in this situation. With some input from Wildlife Services we decided that the best way to help out was to cost-share some emergency hay for his cattle, so they could be kept fed and kept on the private ranch for a couple extra weeks. This would give time for Wildlife Services to try and haze the wolves out of their den and further into the forest. The pups are old enough now and so they should be able to keep up with the adults in the pack when they travel. When, and if, the wolves are moved, the cattle will be brought onto the allotment to graze for the summer.

In these types of situations the outcome is often unknown. The wolf pack may move just over the next hill and return at a later date, or they may go far away and not return to the allotment for the whole summer. All one can do is to try and keep the wolves away from young calves, and to try and ‘teach’ the wolves to associate cattle with big, scary people who the wolves do not want to mess with. In this case we worked with the producer and Wildlife Services to evaluate the situation and decide which tools and strategies would work best for everyone, including the wolves.

Check this blog regularly to get updates on this proactive project, as well as the many others we are involved in across the northern Rockies.

Montana sets wolf quota

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks has said that hunters may shoot up to 75 wolves this fall. This number represents 18% of the current population -- a population that was only just removed from the Endangered Species List in February. The public has until July 18th to comment on the tentative quotas.

Do you believe these actions are premature?

June 06, 2008

Non-Lethal Deterrents: Part IV

Just a few days ago Defenders helped to purchase three livestock guarding dogs for a goat operation on private land in the foothills of the breathtaking Beartooth Mountains, in south Montana, just north of Yellowstone Park. Last year this operation lost a number of goats after a snowstorm meant the goats could not be herded safely back to their pens for the night. This year they decided that they would use herders and livestock guarding dogs to better protect their goats when in wolf country, and we were happy to help out as this area has seen a number of wolves killed over the years for depredating on livestock.

Livestock guarding dogs have been used with livestock operations in the West since the 70’s to protect sheep and goat from coyotes and other predators. In the last decade since wolves were introduced, they have provided an extra line of vigilance against wolf depredations. Although the guard dogs are large, intimidating animals, their primary purpose is not to stand and fight off the approaching wolves, but rather to act as an alarm system to alert the nearby herders that predators are in the area. Producers have told us that it is best to have at least two dogs per sheep/goat band. The thinking behind this is that using three to four dogs or more is likely identified by wolves as a pack, which would discourage  wolves from  approaching the livestock, whereas a lone guard dog might act as an attractant to the very territorial pack of wolves.

These dogs may be a number of breeds including Pyrenees, Akbash, Maremmas, but they share common characteristics such as a large build,  thick  fur and a lot of stamina. These dogs are associated at an early age with the livestock they will be guarding, almost becoming one of the band. They do not socialize too well with humans, which this is encouraged as their job is to stay with the livestock and not hang around the herders. Keep checking this site for news and pictures of these young dogs and the goats they are protecting.

June 03, 2008

Washington Preparing for Wolves

The state of Washington is getting ready for the possible return of the gray wolf. The Wolf Working Group has been discussing ideas ranging from how many breeding pairs it would require before delisting the wolf from the Endangered Species Act, to how much ranchers should be compensated for losses due to wolves. Hopefully wolves will return to Washington soon. Unfortunately, this is an unlikely occurrence if Idaho kills half of its wolf population this year.


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