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January 12, 2009

2008 Proactive Season Recap

Jesse with sheep As the snows start to build up in the mountains and valleys of the Northern Rockies, the winter wildlife migrations begin. Elk and deer start to head down onto the lower elevations where there is less snow and more shrubs to forage. At the same time, much of the sheep and cattle that have been grazing the mountains and high valleys are shipped off to market, or else are brought back to the ranch for the winter. The wolves tend to follow the elk during this time, waiting for the deep snows that slow the elk down and make them easier prey. The last of our proactive projects finished a couple of months ago and so things have quieted down for a while. Overall we had a very successful proactive season, with numerous projects spread over the Northern Rockies.

Our most ambitious project was the Big Wood River Valley Project in central Idaho. Deep in the Sawtooth Mountains, this valley is home to over 10,000 sheep during the summer grazing season. There was at least one wolf pack in the area, and it had been involved in depredations in the past. With the help of a team of field technicians who used an array of non-lethal wolf deterrents, such as telemetry, turbo-fladry, RAG boxes, and air-horns, we managed to reduce the losses from last year by a significant amount. We had all the local state and federal agencies helping out with this project, and four of the biggest sheep producers in Idaho were all impressed by the project that they signed on for another year. This was one of our largest projects, and illustrates the evolution from small projects that focus on just one or two producers, to more inclusive projects that work over a much larger area and includes all the producers potentially affected by the local wolf packs.

LazyEL_riders_Thad&Sam In Montana we worked with two different ranchers to implement range rider projects in central and west Montana. The range riders had worked with Defenders for a number of years previously on these projects, and it was interesting to see how these projects had evolved and changed over the years. These projects are learning experiences for all those involved. After sitting down and speaking to the producers and the wildlife agents, we come up with a number of tool and techniques that might work in the situation. Sometimes we have great success with the project, and other times we need to improve on what was done and try new things the next year. Producers in the Northern Rockies are once again getting used to raising livestock in areas where there are large carnivores, and these changes do not happen overnight. Very often only small changes to a producers operation can produce dramatic results, with reduced livestock loss during the year.  At the end of the season both these ranchers, and the state wildlife biologists, all agreed that because of these projects and the help from Defenders, the livestock losses were reduced.

During the winter we follow up with all of our project partners to discuss how the project could be improved for the next year. We will sit down with all the different agencies involved and work out what worked well, and what could be changed for next year. We could not do these collaborative projects without the continual support of our members and donors who help fund them. Thank you for your help and here is to another successful year.

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