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Range riders bring results

Posted by jkehne at Jun 03, 2013 06:25 PM |

We left you hanging in the fall 2012 newsletter: “The real proof of whether our pilot range rider program can help ranchers in Washington won’t be known until the cows came home later this fall.” Well, they've returned home, and on a positive note. During last year's grazing season, we partnered with the Washington Department of Fish Wildlife to fund a range rider - the first in Washington - at the Dawson Ranch in northeast Washington. Range riding is an effective on-the-ground conflict avoidance solution for wolves and people.

Range riders bring results

Range rider Leisa Hill's son Nick takes a break in Smackout Pack territory. Photo courtesy Leisa Hill

Want to learn more about our range rider program with local ranchers and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife? Read our 2014 update here or learn more about what we do for wolves. The following is an update on our 2013 range riding program.
We left you hanging in the fall 2012 newsletter: “The real proof of whether our pilot range rider program can help ranchers in Washington won’t be known until the cows came home later this fall.”

We had partnered with the Washington Department of Fish Wildlife (WDFW) to fund a range rider—the first in Washington—at the Dawson Ranch in northeast Washington during the 2012 grazing season. The Dawson’s 250 cow/calf pairs are turned out onto their Forest Service grazing allotment in early June. They also run 350 cow/calf pairs on private property adjoining the allotments, smack dab in the middle of Smackout wolf territory. The Smackout Pack at the time had eight to ten known members.

During the summer of 2011, without a range rider this ranch family believed they lost at least eight calves to wolves or other predators. Their figures showed 10% weight loss, likely because livestock don’t eat as well with wolves around testing or running the herd. 

In June of 2012, the range rider, Leisa Hill, immediately went to work, setting up a trailer camp right among the cows. That season she put over 4,500 miles on horseback and a four-wheeler to remote roadless locations. Her job? Disrupt patterns of interaction and keep harassment and predation from happening.

"Having the unique opportunity to be Washington's first range rider, I found the work to be both challenging and enlightening. I gained valuable insight into the wolves' behavior. The 2012 season ended on a positive, no loss note. I look forward to the second year of the pilot program," said Leisa Hill
See the story as flipbook, plus more wolf news.

Leisa received daily telemetry wolf location data from WDFW to guide her day’s work. And she was relentless. Her attitude of “no cows will die on my watch” never let up. When she had to go to town for supplies, other ranchers on the family ranch stepped in to cover the never-ending “herd supervision” work known as range riding.

Well, the cows did finally come home last fall—every last one of them, with no losses to wolves or, for that matter, any other predator. After weighing the cattle, the Dawsons were proud to report some of the best weight gain they could remember after any grazing season on their allotments.

A Forest Service range use study completed immediately after the season ended noted excellent use of the available forage with very high marks for proper range utilization.

John Dawson put it this way, “ln 2011, the wolves were running our ranch and our cattle. In 2012, we took back control of the grazing and our ranch from the wolves.” 

With this in mind, the Dawsons are eager to extend the pilot for another year, and Conservation Northwest plans to contribute funds to that effort for the 2013 grazing season. In the meantime, using the experiences from the Dawson Pilot, Conservation Northwest has begun working with another rancher farther south in Teanaway Pack territory in the Cascades to set up a similar herd supervision effort.   

Will these efforts work again? We all have high hopes, but the proof will be “when the cows come home this fall.”

A new vanity license plate fee, scheduled for fall, helps fund wolf-livestock conflict avoidance.

 

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