The Wood River Wolf Project: Year Two
It is grazing season in central Idaho, and the sheep and cattle are being turned out onto the public lands. Many sheep bands, with ewes and lambs, are either being trucked, or trailed into the Big Wood River Valley. It is situated in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, this 756,000 acres was set aside by Congress in 1972 "... in order to assure the preservation and protection of the natural, scenic, historic, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values and to provide for the enhancement of the recreational values associated therewith..." In this magnificent part of Idaho over 12,000 sheep will pass through this valley during the summer, which is also home to wolves, bears and coyotes. Defenders of Wildlife, Idaho Fish and Game, US Forest Service, Wildlife Services and the local sheep producers are working together on a project that will use a number of different tools and techniques to try and keep the wolves out of the sheep bands that graze in this area.
This is the second year of the Big Wood River Valley Project, one of the most ambitious ones we have been involved in. This project illustrates the evolution from smaller 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. Last year there were at least two wolf packs in the area, and one of them had been involved in previous depredations. 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. All the local state and federal agencies were involved with this project, and four of the biggest sheep producers in Idaho were all impressed enough by the project that they signed on again for this year.
This year we hope to reproduce the success of the project, and we will be working hard to try and deter the local wolves from getting close to the sheep this season. Last Friday we held the training day for the field team, the sheep producers and the herders. Rick Williamson from the Wildlife Services, and Carter Niemeyer the former Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service helped run the training. 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 from 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 night’s work scanning for wolves.
The technicians will work closely with the herders and producers to determine what are the best tools to use in these situations, 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 the second year of this project. Already there has been media interest in this project, and the spotlight will be on us, and the wolves throughout the season.