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State helps protect livestock from wolves

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By Dan Wheat
Capital Press

Conservation Northwest held a workshop the same day in Colville for ranchers to listen to a rancher from Blackfoot, Mont., and a program coordinator from Longview, Alberta, about successful management of wolves in those areas.

With the number of wolves increasing in Washington, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is stepping up efforts to help ranchers protect livestock.

Conservation Northwest of Bellingham also is working to help ranchers and wants to start a program to do so.

Within the past month, Fish and Wildlife helped a producer near Laurier, in the northeast corner of the state, install turbo fladry, electrified flagging and fencing, around a 3-acre calving pen, said Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman in Spokane.

Big red flags were used that have been effective in keeping wolves out of areas in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, Luers said. The rancher had an electrified fence around a 1-acre pen and expanded it to 3 acres. The department paid for the flagging and some of the electrification with funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she said.

The department will do more as needs arise, particularly in the northeast corner of the state where there are lots of ranches and wolves, Luers said. The department has added four to five personnel dedicated to wolf monitoring, she said.

Steve Pozzanghera, the department's eastern regional director, discussed agency efforts with ranchers in Colville on April 25, she said.

Meanwhile, Conservation Northwest held a workshop the same day in Colville for ranchers to listen to a rancher from Blackfoot, Mont., and a program coordinator from Longview, Alberta, about successful management of wolves in those areas.

"One of our goals is to develop a program but we are far from it," said Jasmine Minbashian, special projects director for Conservation Northwest.

Large cooperatives of ranchers and other parties were formed in Blackfoot and Longview and have used range riders, electric fences and removed carcasses which reduced livestock deaths by 90 percent, Minbashian said.

Conservation Northwest would like develop a similar program in Washington at little or no cost to ranchers, perhaps paid by government grants, she said.

The workshop was a starting point to see if ranchers are interested and let them hear strategies from ranchers dealing with wolves, she said.

"Conflict is inevitable with more wolves but if we can get ahead of it we can reduce it," she said. "Wolves are social and human presence with livestock is one way to get them to learn livestock is not desirable prey."

Flagging, electric fencing and cracker shells (shooting blanks) have been tried in other states with varying degrees of success, said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association in Ellensburg.

"The only effective tool is removal (shooting), but the department wants to exhaust all preventative tools before it gets to that and I understand that," Field said.

Ranchers are concerned about potential losses this summer, particularly as they move livestock to higher-elevation ranges, he said.

Fish and Wildlife estimates 10 wolf packs may be living in the state, up from five last year. It has documented three breeding pair and 27 wolves although each breeding pair is believed to have about 14 wolves.

There has only been one confirmed probable livestock loss to a wolf in the state, a calf near Laurier in 2007. Ranchers say there have been others, cattle and sheep, that are unconfirmed.

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