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September 05, 2008

Shepherd for a Night

....It was the guard dogs barking that woke me up, and only then did I hear the two wolves howling on the ridge line above me. It was four o’clock on a chilly Monday morning, and I was huddled in my sleeping bag lying on top of a rocky outcrop. The sky was exceptionally clear and the Milky Way shone brightly above me, the moon having dipped below the horizon hours before. The wolf howls seemed to be coming just a hundred or so yards away, although it was hard to tell as it was so quiet out here in the foothills of the Boulder Mountains.

This is me, Jesse Timberlake, trying to track collared wolves using telemetry equipment.

I grabbed my telemetry equipment to see if it was the Alpha male or female that was making the entire ruckus, or maybe both. I turned on the receiver and scanned all the channels, but did not pick up a single signal, so either these were the uncollared sub-adults of the Phantom Hill pack, or a different pack altogether that was new to the area. On any other night I would have been happy to just sit under the stars and listen to the wolves howl away, but this night my job was to guard the nearby sheep band, the sheep band that was in the same direction that the howls were coming from. Throwing on my boots and grabbing my spotlight and air-horn, I started running up the hill sounding the horn and shining the light were I thought they might be. After a minute or so I stopped making noise and listened, I could not hear the wolves any more, and I was not able to catch them in my spotlight, which was fine by me. I sat down near the band and waited to see if the wolves would come back, but the sheep settled down again and the guard dogs stopped barking so I was content that the wolves were on their way.

Luckily there were three big Pyrenees guard dogs with this band that were able to make some noise and wake me up. These dogs are great as predator alarms, but they are no match for a wolf and there should be a human nearby to scare the wolves off as there was in this case. In the Phantom Hill wolf pack there are two animals that are collared, and so we often can tell when they are in the vicinity, but as last year's pups get older they start to go off on their own, and as they are uncollared telemetry will not pick them up. This evening we had decided not to put fladry up as the terrain was very rocky and also very steep. But after the close encounter with the wolves you can bet we started using fladry on all the following nights, as well as setting up RAG alarm boxes. Even with all the best tools and technology at ones disposal, producers are finding that one of the best methods is increased human presence as wolves are still wary of people.

The day after all this excitement, I met up with three different documentary producers who were all interested in the proactive work we were doing out in central Idaho, and how producers were working together to try and reduce conflicts between predators and livestock. The Forest Service, USDA Wildlife Services, Defenders and the producers all went on a field trip to show the filmmakers where we worked and what it entailed on a day-to-day basis. They got some great footage and we will keep you posted on when these films come out so you can see what these projects involve, and how they work.


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Wow! I had no idea you got to do this sort of thing! Sounds exciting and scary and wonderful all at once.

One thought I had, was what will happen if wolves start to figure out that humans don't seem to do anything other than make noise? What are you doing to keep the wolves from becoming accustomed to humans?

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