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Wood River Wolf Project Marks Five Years

PHOTO: Sheep dot a hillside in the Sawtooth National Forest, part of the project area. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith.
PHOTO: Sheep dot a hillside in the Sawtooth National Forest, part of the project area. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith.
November 12, 2012

KETCHUM, Idaho – More than 27,000 sheep - bedding down on public lands that are also home to wolves. That was the scenario for the Wood River Wolf Project in Idaho this year, where non-lethal wolf-management tools are used to keep sheep, and wolves, safe.

The result? Only four sheep lost to wolves - and that happened on a night when the herd bumped into a previously unknown wolf pack. Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative for the group Defenders of Wildlife, says it's the best year yet - and they've been doing this for five years now.

"The ranchers, the herders, that we're working with on the ground, they've really learned a lot of these tools and techniques, as well. So, they're becoming more adept at them, and that is making us all work together better as a team."

The biggest challenge this year was locating the wolves, she says, since there are no radio-collared animals left. That was done with on-the-ground detective work and remote wildlife cameras.

Non-lethal tools include livestock protection dogs, shooting blanks, air horns, flag fencing and human presence. Stone argues that co-existence methods are less expensive than "kill-only" approaches that involve radio collars, sharpshooters and helicopters. The state of Washington recently spent thousands to kill wolves.

"The state paid out over $100,000 to kill one pack of wolves. One pack. We're not even going to get close to that with protecting the 27,000 sheep we had in our project area."

Field supervisor Patrick Graham says there were nights when wolves came within 50 yards of sheep.

"Every night we had wolf observations, whether it was with our own eyes or just with our ears, and we worked really hard to make sure that the wolves stayed out of the sheep, and they did."

Ranchers, sheepherders, federal and state agencies, and Blaine County have partnered for the Wood River Wolf Project. Stone says the track record of success has caught the attention of wolf managers in other states, with queries coming from Oregon, Washington, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico – and even from Europe.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID