Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lambing season, grazing leave sheep vulnerable?

Wolves kill 7 Flat Top ewes

Express Staff Writer

Members of the Wood River Wolf Project track wolves in the Wood River Valley in 2008. Photo by Mountain Express
Carey-area ranch owner John Peavey has a dozen orphan lambs on his hands following a wolf attack last week that killed several of his sheep.
Jerome Hansen, supervisor of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's Magic Valley Region, said wolves belonging to the Little Wood Pack near Carey had reportedly killed seven ewes on private land. Though Hansen declined to name the property owner, Peavey later confirmed that the sheep were his, some of many roaming on his Flat Top Ranch.

"Last year, [the depredations] were in the fall," he said. "This year, it's in the spring."
The timing is poor for Peavey, whose ewes are lambing. The ones killed had already given birth—mostly to twins. Methods for trying to keep orphaned lambs alive do exist, he said, but can be expensive, time-consuming and sometimes ineffective.
"You try to find another home for them, but it's a lot of work and effort and a lot of times it doesn't work and you lose the lambs," Peavey said.

Peavey's ranch made headlines in livestock depredation last year as well, when what is believed to have been the Bell Mountain Pack attacked and killed a calf on his property. Three wolves were killed as a result of a subsequent kill order for Wildlife Services.
Hansen said another kill order has been issued, this time for two adult wolves—though there may be more in the area.
"We understand that the producer has seen four wolves in the area," he said. "I assume they are adults or sub-adults."
Peavey said he personally hadn't seen any wolves, but one of his herders had spotted the animals in the area.

Suzanne Stone, spokeswoman for wildlife advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, said her staff isn't certain if the pack that attacked Peavey's sheep was the Little Wood Pack that existed last year.
"We're still trying to document that pack, if there is a pack, [and find out] are they localized, are they denning?" she said.
She said wolves that are denning are tied to a certain area, and any pups are likely to be under a month old.
Complicating the issue is the fact that there are no longer any radio-collared wolves in Blaine County. Last season, Idaho was home to more than 100 radio-collared wolves, which Stone said made wolf monitoring much easier.
"Pretty much every pack had a collar in it," she said.
Now, she said, only 30 wolves are collared.

< Currently, Patrick Graham—a field technician with the Wood River Wolf Project, a program started by Defenders of Wildlife to protect livestock using non-lethal deterrents—is tracking and monitoring wolf packs himself in preparation for the project's kickoff in late June.
His job is made even harder this year as Stone said her organization hopes to expand the project area this season—from 760 square miles to more than 16,000 square miles, an expansion that depends on a $50,000 grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Stone said she hopes to also work with cattle producers, whereas the organization has previously focused on sheep.

"With expansion to cattle, we'll need a lot more people on the ground," she said, which accounts for part of the need for the grant and also an increased funding request from Blaine County this year.
Stone said her organization would also be working with Peavey for the first time this year, a collaboration years in the making.
Peavey said that so far, he's set up fladry—red vinyl flags sewn to lines or electric fencing and set up around livestock at night to deter packs—on one side of his grazing area. He also said he uses guard dogs to protect his flocks as well as electric fencing around the lambing ewes.
However, Stone said Peavey might have to make extensive changes to his grazing practices if nonlethal deterrents are going to have an impact on livestock losses. Currently, she said, Peavey has his pregnant and recently lambed sheep split into small bands over a large area, leaving many unguarded.

Stone said that as a result of these grazing practices, Wildlife Services has killed wolves but also coyotes, bears and mountain lions around the Flat Top Ranch property—though Idaho State Wildlife Services State Manager said the three wolves killed last year were the first in several years.
Still, the depredation occurs.
"It's almost like setting the picnic table, ringing the dinner bell and shooting the guests," she said. "It's not a question of will they have [predation], it's a question of how much they will lose."
Peavey said he's moved his sheep since the incidents, and Stone said the two are still exploring what methods for nonlethal control Peavey will be willing to try on his land. As far as methods, Peavey said, he's willing to try anything that will be effective.

"If what they've got is going to work, that's fine," he said. "It's better than losing momma sheep and having orphaned lambs around."