It boils in certain circles, after Vidar Helgesen Tuesday put his foot down. Over 70,000 people are overjoyed. Not as many people are cranky, miserable, hateful and unable to see that democracy and legislation for once worked. 47 wolves were meant to be shot this winter, meant the Predator Agency – most of them near the Swedish border, not for having taken large numbers of sheep – but now this years winter hunt has been stopped. Results: Only 15 wolves to be killed this year. Four wolf families (Slettås, Kynna, Osdalen and Letjenna) may live.
How can I say “over 70,000” people? Because – it is so far over seventy thousand who signed the campaign to stop the wolf hunt. A corresponding signing action has not even reached 8000! Reactions in “every camp” is obvious: It cheered within protective side and hated at the haters while one side thank Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen and the other malign him and thinks he’s bought and paid for. Predictions of a bloody summer and wolves eating children have already been mentioned, as well as SGT method – shoot, dig and be silent. When they do not get their way, they resort to poaching. It should perhaps be a little daunting to read this and to remind them that the law still applies when it does not suit them. It’s that simple.
Those who have won, is not really the pro-wolf groups, just as the haters have lost. And yes – I call them haters, it can not be explained any better when you see the statements and incitements which has spread in certain groups now. It feels of course as a victory for me, considering all the hours of volunteer work, all translations, articles, all free work to give the voiceless a voice, and you can add to this the dozens of active people who have worked like maniacs to turn wolf management into a humane, fair result. In fact the outcome could not have been different, if Vidar Helgesen does the job he is set to do: Namely to use Norwegian laws so that they are followed. They are there for a reason! So really, there is no reason to thank Vidar Helgesen so incredibly intense, he has done the job he is set to do. In our country the Predator Agency first makes a decision, then the complaints shall be dealt with and finally there is the climate and environment minister who is the last in the row to put his foot down. Or up. And that is precisely what has happened now. Because the Predator Agency has not done its job. It is in fact no news to anyone that there is a Bern Convention they must follow, although it came as a shock now. So Vedum can’t whine about the fact that democracy and law works against his wishes, and the leader of Predator Agency hopefully retires from the position – sooner rather than later. And the haters can’t say that this is anarchy – they should google such terms so they know what they are writing about. At the same time they should google wolfpack hunting and see what actually is being avoided by letting the four wolf families live. It’s that simple.
One does not kill wolves in wolf zone, by license. So we can hope that the number of wolves excluded will be expanded at the next predator settlement. So far over 10 wolves have been shot outside the wolf zone, which the haters apparantly has forgotten. They have also forgotten that the four families who will live, has hardly taken any sheep – but since it is not only the sheep that are the problem, but also hunters and forest owners, who likely would have shot far more wolves than originally proposed. It’s that simple.
Now right-wing politicians cry out in protest in Hedmark Court. And perhaps the best thing that could happen for the party is to get rid of rogue members with kindergarten mentality that does not think that it’s okay to follow Norwegian law. For the law applies even if it goes against one’s own desires. It’s that simple.
Source / roughly translated from Norwegian with Google Translate
Yet another old article featuring the controversy between man and wolf! I’ve been doing some research and came across a couple of older articles and felt the urge to compare the situation “then” with what is happening today.
Posted by Neal Lineback of Geography in the NewsTM on December 14, 2013
Who’s Crying, “Wolf?”
Wolves remain one of the American West’s most controversial species. Hardly a week goes by without a newspaper article describing conflicting issues about wolves across the West. Any discussion of the management of wolf populations and geographic ranges brings criticism from all sides of the issue.
When the wolf was “delisted,” or taken off the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list in 2009, a battle began. The fight is between a coalition of livestock and hunting groups and an alliance of environmental and animal rights groups. The issue is over how to manage the West’s healthy wolf populations and whether states should allow wolves to be hunted once more.
The grey wolf, Canis lupus, is the largest member of the dog family. Wolves likely originated during the Late Pleistocene about 300,000 years ago. While once found in any ecosystem on every continent in the Northern Hemisphere, wolves were hunted to near extinction by the early 20th century.
When European settlers came to North America in the 1500s and 1600s, wolves were living both in the forested areas and on the plains. Early settlers, fueled by a traditional European hatred of the wolf, began eradicating the animal using firearms, traps and poison. Authorities offered bounties to anyone bringing in wolf hides or other parts of dead wolves.
An all-out war against the wolf began when people began to settle the Great Plains in the 1800s. The enormous herds of bison that served as food for the wolves helped keep the pack numbers high in the region. When hunters decimated the bison populations in the mid-1800s, however, the wolves turned to domestic sheep and cattle as prey, bringing greater pressure on their numbers.
During the last half of the 19th century in the western United States, as many as two million wolves were killed. The U.S. government supported complete annihilation of the animal and passed a law in 1919 that called for eradication of wolves on federal lands.
By the time the law was repealed in 1942, another 25,000 wolves had been killed by the government plan. The wolf remained nearly extinct in the American West until the species gained protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1974.
When, in the 1980s, a small number of wolves migrated from Canada into Glacier National Park in Montana, talk of reintroducing the animal to the region began. During this time, ecological research was showing that wolves and other predators play critical roles in maintaining the ecosystems to which they belong.
After several years of study, public comment and controversy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in the early 1990s to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Over the last 20 years, wolf populations have grown and packs have flourished, spreading out from Yellowstone and onto adjacent range land.
Today, ranchers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming find that news disturbing and fear loss of livestock to wolves. Big game hunters are also lobbying for less wolf protection, fearing elk and deer predation by wolves. Many feel that states should allow wolves to be hunted just as bear and mountain lion hunting is allowed. On the other side, environmental and animal rights groups argue on behalf of the wolf, seeing its presence as necessary for the ecosystem and worrying that too many wolves will be killed.
Research in three states of the Rocky Mountain West shows that wolf populations have completely recovered and no longer need ESA protection. According to an article by Ed Bangs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Oct 2009), wolves in the modern world require management to minimize conflicts.
This management may include public hunting of wolves or not, but Bangs stresses that it will involve killing wolves to keep their numbers in check. If hunters and ranchers are not allowed to hunt wolves, then controlled kills will be necessary to maintain healthy wolf numbers and control their conflicts with domestic livestock. The management goal is to find the most efficient, least expensive and most socially acceptable methods of dealing with wolves, while also further enhancing wolf conservation.
PORTLAND, Ore. – A majority of Oregonians believe hunting wolves is no way to manage them and that the species still deserves endangered species protections, according to a new poll conducted by Mason Dixon Polling and Research.
More than 70 percent of Oregon voters who responded said nonlethal prevention methods should be attempted before officials are allowed to kill wolves.
Two-thirds said wolves don’t pose such an economic threat to the cattle industry that killing them is required.
Arron Robertson, communications coordinator for the conservation group Oregon Wild, said proposed changes to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s wolf conservation plan could make it easier to kill wolves.
“What are the conditions in which the agency essentially deputizes hunters to go out and do wildlife management?” he asked. “And what we found in this poll was that Oregonians disapproved of the kind of management tools that the agency was proposing.”
Respondents to the poll spanned the political spectrum, and 30 percent came from rural Oregon.
The poll was conducted at the end of September. As of the end of 2015, the commission said there were about 110 wolves in Oregon.
According to the poll, 63 percent disagree with the state’s removal of endangered species protections for Oregon’s wolves.
Robertson’s group, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands, are challenging this decision in court, saying the science behind the decision is flawed.
“There were a number of scientists that commented that the science wasn’t rigorous enough and they had a number of concerns and those concerns were never addressed because there was no revision,” Robertson stressed. “So the decision, which was based on a report that was never peer-reviewed, was in violation of Oregon law.”
Last Friday, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission held a meeting open to the public in La Grande on proposed changes to the state’s wolf management plan, and will hold another meeting on Dec. 2 in Salem.
In June, when Ontario’s eastern wolves were renamed Algonquin wolves, their at-risk status deteriorated, changing from Special Concern to Threatened.
As a Threatened species, they were automatically and immediately protected across Ontario.
3 months later, most of that protection was removed.
Wolves and coyotes are now protected in 4 areas centred around provincial parks. The largest of these areas is around Algonquin Provincial Park, the Algonquin wolf’s stronghold.
Killing has been banned there since 2001 and has been a conservation success.
Eastern coyotes and Algonquin wolves can’t be told apart without a genetic test. To protect Algonquin wolves, coyotes must also be protected. Instead of closing hunting and trapping of both species across the Algonquin wolf’s known range, Ontario announced that the new closures were being limited to 3 areas around parks where wolves have already been protected from hunting for years: Killarney Provincial Park, Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands and Kawartha Highlands Signature Site.
The government has attempted to disguise these changes as an improvement of wolf protection – between the 3 new areas, 40 townships will be off-limits to wolf and coyote killing. 40 townships sounds like a big area, but in reality they make up a very small part of the at-risk wolves’ provincial range. The 3 new closure areas are far too small to recover the threatened population of Algonquin wolves. Wolves require protected corridors between areas of prime habitat. Only 1 of the new closure areas is connected to Algonquin Park. The other 2 are not islands of protection, but islands of extinction.
When added to the map showing the known distribution of Algonquin wolves, it is clear how small and disconnected the 3 new closures areas are.
Compared to grey wolves, eastern coyotes or hybrids, Algonquin wolves have the lowest survival in unprotected areas. Wolves travel hundreds of kilometres in their lifetimes, and disperse from their birth pack to find a mate and open territory where they can raise their own families.
In Ontario, a Recovery Strategy will be due for the Algonquin wolf 2 years from their listing date, on June 15th 2018. The government has 9 months to develop a Response Statement that will outline actions that will be taken to protect and recover the species. We will continue to ask for increased protection based on scientific research about the effects of the 3 new closure areas on the population, and robust monitoring to determine exactly how many wolves are killed each year by hunters and trappers now exempt from the Endangered Species Act protection provisions.
At the federal level, consultation is still underway to list them as a Threatened species across Canada. Thank you to those who submitted comments in support of this listing – together, we submitted over 2900 comments!
Under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA), Threatened species require a Recovery Strategy that includes plans for all provinces where the species is found. Algonquin wolves, or eastern wolves as they are known across Canada, live only in Ontario and Quebec. However, the Quebec government does not have an active scientific committee assessing the status of species at risk and does not formally recognize the eastern wolf or have special regulations to protect it. Federal listing of the wolves as Threatened will help kickstart this protection.
On July 22nd, the Ontario government proposed two plans that will hinder the recovery of this at-risk wolf population. On September 15th, After the shortest possible public consultation period brought in well over 15,000 comments, the provincial government announced that they are moving forward with their plans. This announcement was made on the very same day that hunting and trapping seasons open across the majority of the threatened wolves’ range. Hunting and trapping are the known primary threats to the Algonquin wolf.
The 1st plan proposed was to limit new hunting and trapping bans, which are normally automatic for all threatened and endangered species in Ontario, to 3 small ‘island’-like closures around Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands and Killarney Provincial Parks and Kawartha Highlands Signature Site where hunting wolves has been banned for years.
Disguising Regulation Amendments as Improved Wolf Protection
These closures are being peddled as imroved protection because most of the Algonquin wolf records (i.e. a single confirmed location for each Algonquin wolf) are included within these areas. However, the reason more Algonquin wolves have not been found elsewhere is because their survival is dangerously low where hunting and trapping occur outside of these parks.
Moreover, a wolf is not a dot on a map. Wolves are capable of travelling hundreds of kilometres in their lifetimes, and almost always leave their birth packs to search for a new territory and a mate. Their inability to survive and reproduce in unprotected areas is the very reason why the wolves are rare enough to be deemed a Threatened species in the first place. It is appalling that this would be considered justification to continue ongoing killing where the wolves have been killed off before.
The 2nd proposal contained a regulation change that would make the 1st proposal legal – an exemption for all licensed hunters and trappers from being penalized for killing an Algonquin wolf anywhere outside of the 3 new islands or existing protection in and around Algonquin Provincial Park, the species’ stronghold.
How Ontario Justified the Regulation Changes
Ontario claims their decisions are justified due to confusion on the part of hunters and trappers targeting coyotes. Indeed, without a genetic test, eastern coyotes and Algonquin wolves cannot be differentiated. The government has not announced plans to track the number of Algonquin wolves killed; without a genetic test even those hunters and trappers who do comply with mandatory reporting requirements cannot accurately determine which species they have killed. Hunters can kill up to 2 wolves annually if they purchase a game seal, the annual sales of which continue to increase since their inception in 2005. There is no limit on the number of wolves that can be trapped.
The Ontario government also cites concern from livestock farmers as a justifiable reason to allow more killing of Algonquin wolves. However, allowing these animals to be killed does not prevent or solve livestock depredation – in fact, a growing body ofresearchshows that hunting and trapping large carnivores can actually exacerbate the issue, increasing the number of livestock killed in future years. These regulation changes fail both the Algonquin wolves and the farming community.
Public Concern Based on Wolf Research
Hunting and trapping were banned in the townships surrounding Algonquin Provincial Park beginning in 2001 due to overwhelming public concern for the park wolves being killed as they followed deer to winter yards outside of the park. Subsequent research funded by the Ontario government found that 80% of Algonquin wolves that left this protected area were killed in legally set strangling snares or shot by hunters before being able to establish new packs in unprotected areas. Those wolves remaining inside the expanded protected area around the Park enjoyed several benefits – a stabilized population, a return to natural family-based pack structure and less need to hybridize with eastern coyotes.
This year, public concern has been ignored – the majority of the 17,301 comments submitted in response to the proposals asked for more stringent protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Ontario’s Wolves and Coyotes: All Essential
Scientists estimate that 65% of the world’s Algonquin wolf population inhabits Ontario, a mere 154 adult wolves. These wolves are now patchily distributed amongst a population of eastern coyotes and their hybrids.
Eastern coyotes and Algonquin wolves are similar, but preliminary research results have begun to shine a light on how different their roles are within Ontario’s landscapes. Eastern coyotes, Algonquin wolves, and grey wolves eat different kinds of prey and thrive in different habitats. All three species are top predators, and all three play essential roles in our ecosystems. It is time we begin to value them for their inherent worth and the benefits they afford us, and stop trying (and failing) to eradicate, or ‘control’ them. A commitment to recovering socially intact Algonquin wolf populations requires protection of eastern coyotes as well.
FACT: 1/3 of the threatened wolves that have been found outside of Algonquin Park’s protection will be open to hunting and trapping
FACT: Algonquin wolves are long-distance dispersers, traveling 32km on average from their birth pack
FACT: 80% of young radio-tracked wolves that dispersed from Algonquin park were killed by trappers within 1 year
August 7, 2015 by Sandi Doughton, The Seattle Times
Range Rider Bill Johnson rides through rough terrain as he monitors an area that showed heavy wolf traffic earlier in the morning using GPS tracking data of collared wolves provided by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Sy Bean / The Seattle Times)
Bill Johnson’s border collie, Nip, was just doing her job when the black cow wheeled and lunged at the dog.
Before wolves returned to this valley, that kind of behavior was rare, said Johnson, who – with Nip’s assistance – was driving a group of cattle up a dusty canyon. Now, cows aggressively confront any canine that gets close to their calves.
“It’s a sign that the wolves have been probing the cattle,” he said.
As part of a project called Range Riders, it’s Johnson’s job to keep cows and wolves away from one another. Every day before saddling his horse and heading into the field, he logs onto the computer to see exactly where the valley’s resident wolf pack has been hanging out.
On this scorching summer day, radio collar signals placed them very near the spot where the cow spooked.
“They were right here at 7 a.m.,” Johnson said, reining in his mount along a small creek. Close examination of the muddy banks revealed a few smeared paw prints. Nearby were piles of scat. Johnson dismounted, poked at the poop with an antler handle knife and declared that the wolves had dined on elk, rodents and robins’ eggs.
Johnson became a range rider shortly after wolves returned to the Teanaway area four years ago. With funding from Conservation Northwest and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the project helps ranchers hire seasoned cowhands to watch over their herds and keep tabs on wolves in the hope of reducing conflicts with the new predators in the neighborhood.
“Wolves bring up so many emotions on all sides,” said Jay Kehne of Conservation Northwest. “We wanted to find that middle ground and work with ranchers to give them the best possible tools for nonlethal deterrence.”
Seven ranch families around the state signed up this year to receive up to $9,000 each – money the conservation group raises from donors. Under a separate program, WDFW signed agreements with 41 ranchers to provide up to $300,000 in statewide subsidies for range riders and other measures – like automated lights and sirens, guard dogs and special flagging for pens – to discourage wolves from attacking livestock.
Rancher Sam Kayser, who owns the 500 head of cattle in Johnson’s care, was among the first to sign up for both programs. Riding with Johnson in mid-July, Kayser said he hadn’t lost a single animal to wolves.
“The wolves are here, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. “I want to believe there’s room for all of us.”
Kayser still holds to that philosophy even though, just days later, circling vultures led Johnson to the carcass of a yearling steer. Wildlife officials confirmed the animal had been killed by wolves.
“I don’t feel it’s a failure,” Kayser said. “It doesn’t mean I like it, but it’s just one loss in four or five years.”
And under his agreement with the state, Kayser can expect timely compensation for the dead steer. “I appreciate that, and that’s the way it should be,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to carry the financial burden for the public getting to have wolves.”
As in most of the United States, wolves were hunted to near-extinction in Washington decades ago. The animals began making a comeback in the state in the early 2000s. Today, Washington is home to at least 68 wolves in 16 known packs.
With four or five animals, the Teanaway pack is the closest to the state’s urban corridor. The majority of the wolves are concentrated in northeast Washington, where conflicts have been more severe. Wolves killed three cows and a calf north of Chewelah, Stevens County, last month. Last year, a sheep rancher in Stevens County documented 26 wolf-kills and lost an additional 200 animals without a trace.
The state sent in a marksman to target problem animals in that pack, but he accidentally killed the alpha female.
Shooting wolves is – and should be – a last resort, Kehne said.
A recent analysis of 25 years of data found that livestock attacks can actually increase after wolves are killed. The likely explanation, according to scientists at Washington State University, is that taking out an alpha male or female disrupts a pack’s social structure, leading to multiple breeding pairs instead of just one. If more pups are born, the potential for livestock attacks goes up.
Nine months before Kayser’s calf turned up dead, a poacher illegally shot and killed the Teanaway pack’s alpha female.
“Wolves are a major predator, and you’re going to have some problems,” Kehne said. “The hope and goal is to use nonlethal methods to keep those problems to a minimum.”
But when all those nonlethal options fail, killing wolves may sometimes be the only solution, he acknowledged.
In addition to range riders, one of the most effective ways to keep wolves from developing a taste for livestock is simply to remove carcasses of animals that die from other causes, said WDFW’s Joey McCanna.
The state recently got seed money to build a facility in Ferry County where livestock producers can drop off dead animals for composting.
“People were leery at first,” said McCanna, leader of a group of wildlife-conflict specialists who work with ranchers across Eastern Washington. “But now we’re at full capacity.”
In the Teanaway area, wildlife officials have been trying to persuade a small meat-cutting operation to stop dumping bones and scraps into a canyon regularly visited by the local wolves.
“They’re up there a lot,” said Johnson, who sometimes packs a portable antenna to get real-time locations on the pack. He sometimes hears them howling from his house, and usually catches a glimpse of the animals once or twice each summer.
Johnson’s duties as a range rider aren’t that different from those of any cowboy. Much of his time is spent moving cattle from one place to another – sometimes to avoid wolves, but more often to optimize grazing. Just having a human around the cows may be the best wolf-deterrent of all, he explained.
In some ways, the programs are throwbacks to the past, when cowboys stuck with their herds. But after predator populations plummeted, many ranchers cut back on staff to save money.
“Range riders are an old concept, but they’re relatively new again for the new generation of producers,” McCanna said.
Researchers from WSU are conducting a multiyear study on the effectiveness of range riders and other nonlethal deterrents. A better understanding of what works will be key as wolves move into new territory across Washington, Kehne said.
“Sooner or later, they’re going to show up outside that 3-acre alpaca ranch on the west side of the Cascades,” he said.
Hostility to wolves remains high east of the mountains, and Kayser said he’s sympathetic to ranchers who are facing much higher wolf numbers than in the Teanaway.
Several fellow ranchers accuse him of selling out.
“Some of them say, if you sign that agreement you’re saying it’s OK for wolves to kill your cattle,” Kayser said. “I call B.S. on that. To me, the goal is coexistence.”
Still, he was relieved when the tracking data showed that soon after killing his calf, the Teanaway pack moved off and is now ranging through more distant canyons.
“The wolves are here, and there’s nothing we can do about it. I want to believe there’s room for all of us.”
State-based wolf plan would have allowed trapping wolves to inflate elk populations
FRISCO — Wildlife advocates in Idaho have slowed the frantic state-sanctioned wolf slaughter that has ensued since the federal government turned management of the species over to the state.
Idaho wolves catch a break. Photo via USFWS.
In response to a lawsuit filed by conservationist and wilderness advocate Ralph Maughan, along with four conservation groups, Idaho Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service have halted wolf killing in the federally-protected Franck Church-River of No Return Wilderness during the winter of 2015-16.
According to Earthjustice, Idaho’s wolf management plan for the Middle Fork zone in the heart of the River of No Return Wilderness authorizes the sustained killing of up to sixty percent of the resident wolves over multiple years. The goal is to artificially inflate elk populations to benefit commercial outfitters and guides. During the winter of 2013-2014, a state trapper killed nine wolves in the wilderness area.
The state stopped its wolf-killing program after the lawsuit was filed last year. This week, a new notification confirms that the wolves of the River of No Return will be safe from Idaho’s killing program for the 2015-16 winter as well.
“The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness is one of our nation’s last great wild spaces,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso. “We are relieved that it will be managed as a wild place with natural wildlife populations, rather than an elk farm, for at least the coming winter. We will remain vigilant to ensure that wilderness values prevail for the long term.”
“Happily this means a year will go by without Idaho Fish and Game artificially disrupting the natural wildlife processes that are essential to a protected wilderness area,” said Ralph Maughan, a retired Idaho State University professor who was a member of the citizens’ group that drew up the boundaries of the Frank Church Wilderness 35 years ago. “I like to think it means respect for wilderness is growing inside the department.”
“After the Idaho Department of Fish and Game killed the Golden Pack, one of the most researched wolf packs in Idaho, we are happy that they have decided not to indiscriminately kill more wolves in one of the premier wilderness areas of the United States this winter,” said Ken Cole of Western Watersheds Project. “If wolves aren’t safe from government persecution in wilderness, where can they be?”
This Montana cattle ranch is trying to ensure its operations benefit wildlife—and yes, that means wolves, too.
PHOTO: BRYAN ULRING
On a cool, sunny May morning, Hilary Zaranek set out on horseback from her log house in southwestern Montana with one thing on her mind: wolves.
Zaranek lives in the Centennial Valley, an immense expanse of grass- and wetlands ringed by the ragged peaks of the Centennial and Gravelly mountain ranges. The handful of people, mostly ranchers, who call this place home are vastly outnumbered by animals. Trumpeter swans and sandhill cranes are among the more than 260 bird species that inhabit the sweeping landscape, along with river otters, deer, elk, and, of course, loads of cattle. As grizzly and gray wolf populations have recovered in Yellowstone National Park (about 20 miles away), predators have been joining the ranks in increasing numbers, too.
Cattle ranchers have traditionally been hostile to large carnivores; wolves were nearly hunted, trapped, and poisoned to extinction in the Lower 48 a few decades ago, due in part to the threat they posed to livestock. Zaranek, who has done wolf research in Yellowstone and Canada and now works for the Centennial Valley Association, is trying to ease that relationship. She is testing whether range riders on horseback and ATV can minimize conflicts between livestock and predators.
Zaranek and two other riders she oversees are looking out for cattle from a half-dozen ranches in the area, including the J Bar L, a 30,000-acre operation where her husband works.
These cowboys, who all happen to be women, are just one of the ways J Bar L is trying to manage its grass-fed beef operation to benefit livestock, people, wildlife, and habitat. To figure out how best to do that, the ranch works with numerous partners, including NRDC (disclosure), the Nature Conservancy, and the Sage Grouse Initiative. Scientists are studying, for instance, whether structures that mimic beaver dams, installed to rehabilitate stream channels, may benefit Arctic grayling, a rare native fish that sports flamboyant, turquoise-spotted dorsal fins. And on two greater sage grouse leks, biologists are investigating what factors enable populations of these iconic—and possibly soon-to-be-endangered—birds to nest successfully.
But the ranch’s primary focus is moving the herd along in a way that mimics how bison once roamed: regularly rotating grazing to allow pastures to recover for months or even years between munching sessions, and ensuring the animals don’t cause lasting harm to sensitive areas, like springs and leks. As the herd chomps along, the ranchers put up portable, wildlife-friendly electric fences to keep them from wandering.
“People are willing to pay a premium for sustainably raised beef,” says J Bar L Ranch general manager Bryan Ulring. Last year, through Yellowstone Grassfed Beef, the ranch sold about 145,000 pounds of meat (or roughly 600,000 servings) to consumers across the country.
A NEW ATTITUDE
Despite the throwback to bison behavior, this is a thoroughly modern approach. Ranchers have traditionally turned out their cattle to graze largely unattended. But with predators rebounding, J Bar L and other operations in the Centennial Valley and Tom Miner Basin are taking a different tack, relying on Zaranek and the other range riders to patrol herds and keep an eye out for sick, injured, and dead animals. They also gather and settle cattle in the evening, part of an ongoing effort to rekindle the herd instinct. The mere presence of humans acts as a deterrent against attacks, Zaranek says.
Animals go missing from ranches for a slew of reasons, including predation, poisonous plants, lightning (yes, really), and brisket disease, which can cause heart failure in cows at high altitudes. The riders help get to the bottom of what’s causing deaths and disappearances out on the range because, as Zaranek says, “You can’t make good management decisions based on myth.”
That’s why she was out early that May morning, scouting for predator activity in the days before thousands of cattle would arrive for the summer. Grizzlies, of which five or six roam the valley, killed one calf last summer, as well as an adult cow—no small feat considering the bear likely weighed half as much as the 1,400 pound ungulate. This time, Zaranek saw evidence of wolves. “I found a really great hot spot,” she says while we sit at her kitchen table the day after the recon mission. “There were tons of tracks.” She says it looks like there may be three packs carving out territory in the valley this year, up from two in 2014.
PHOTO: YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Wolf pups in Yellowstone National Park
Last year, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana were home to an estimated 1,657 wolves in 263 packs with a total of 75 breeding pairs, according to the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Program. The canids were confirmed as the killers of 140 cattle, 172 sheep, 4 dogs, a horse, and a donkey. Private and state agencies shelled out almost $275,000 in compensation for wolves damaging livestock. Wolves died, too, of course—ranchers and wildlife managers culled 161 of them for coming into conflict with livestock or other wildlife.
Rekindling the herd instinct is key to protecting cattle from wolf and grizzly attacks, says J Bar L Ranch general manager Ulring. He points to how the range riders encourage cattle to move as a herd and stick together, rather than run and scatter, when carnivores draw near—the old safety-in-numbers approach employed by animals ranging from bison to walruses to fish. Since J Bar L first started using range riders a few years ago, it hasn’t lost a single animal to predation when herds stay intact.
“Even last year, when we had cattle right by an active wolf den, we didn’t lose any,” says Ulring. “Cattle or wolves.” They used electric fencing to keep the herd tight and the wolves outside the perimeter.
“This is not just about dead animals,” says Ulring. “A stressed animal has minimal weight gain or can even lose weight. Our animals, even when they were near that den, they’re gaining more than three pounds a day.” All that extra poundage translates into dollars, allowing the ranch to sell more steaks and burgers.
“These techniques are proactive rather than reactive, so they prevent conflicts from happening in the first place,” says Zack Strong, a wildlife advocate with NRDC. Along with conservation strategies, NRDC helps J Bar L and other ranches purchase equipment and hire range riders (and even lends a hand with the electric fencing).
The approach may very well be a selling point, too. John Marzluff, a University of Washington biologist, is launching a statewide poll to gauge whether people would pay more for predator-friendly beef. “We’re also working with some stores to test-market it,” he told MotherBoard.
Researcher Azzurra Valerio of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University says she isn’t surprised to hear of the program’s success. Ranchers taking similar steps elsewhere in the West report fewer losses, too: the Blackfoot Challenge, in northwestern Montana, for instance, has seen a 93 percent drop in grizzly bear conflicts since it started using range riders and other deterrents in 2003. But Valerio cautions that although there are a lot of stories and anecdotes of livestock and predator harmony, “to my knowledge, there are no evaluations of the efficacy of nonlethal methods such as range riders or fences.” She hopes to change that.
Valerio is in the second year of a three-year study that aims to collect hard data; she’s got collars on six wolf packs, eight cattle herds, and one sheep operation, and is working with four range riders and three sheepherders. Valerio is looking at the number of livestock killed and the indirect influences wolves may have on a flock, such as weight loss and reproductive rates. Her findings, however, won’t be in for a few years.
Zaranek, too, speaks cautiously about the effort. “There’s a lot of potential,” but it’s still very new, she says. Rather than basing success on the number of cattle killed—or not—by predators, Zaranek uses another metric: the number of ranchers who say yes and stick with it. It won’t matter whether the measures work if nobody is willing to take a chance. So far, no one has dropped out.
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