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Wolf Crossings

A Rural Viewpoint On Wolf Reintroduction And Protection

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Updated 10-06



Expert touts wolf changes

JACKSON (AP) -- Increased vigilance and denser livestock herds grazing on public land could help reduce losses to wolves, a wolf researcher says.

Biologists made some erroneous assumptions about wolf behavior around cattle and sheep during the wolf reintroduction planning process in the late 1980s, Timm Kaminski told an audience at the AMK Ranch in Grand Teton National Park.

Kaminski worked on those plans as a biologist with the Mountain Livestock Cooperative. He said researchers thought most wolf packs would remain deep in wilderness areas in Yellowstone and central Idaho.

"Most packs moved out to the boundary areas where there is grazing," he said. "We didn't anticipate that. There's been a fair amount of conflict. Reconciling the conflict has been torturous for some."

Early planners also thought that wolves wouldn't eat livestock as long as they lived near an abundance of natural prey. "Wrong, wrong, wrong," he said.

Wolf predation on livestock has increased dramatically since 2003. In the Yellowstone area, 20 of 27 packs that overlapped grazing lands killed livestock in 2004. That year, wolf control officials killed seven packs.

By 2005, 32 packs killed livestock, and officials had to kill 10 packs.

But removing the wolves, either by killing or relocating them, rarely solves the problem. Relocated packs often return to their old areas or find new livestock to depredate. But killing a pack often leaves survivors that infiltrate or start other packs. Eventually the packs that absorb the survivors usually start to kill livestock as well.

Biologists have learned that a wolf that develops a taste for beef or lamb keeps coming back. "Once they start, it's difficult to stop them," he said. "Many of these packs depredate consistently."

He said ranchers don't get much rest as a result.

But he said research has provided new clues that could help them live with wolves with less conflict. Wolves eat mostly calves and yearlings, he said, and kill more often during certain times of the year, such as calving season.

He said the problem is that movements of cattle coincide with movements of prey such as elk, which the wolves follow as they migrate between their summer and winter ranges. Meanwhile, ranchers on public land are told to spread their herds out, leaving cows and their offspring more vulnerable to attack.

Kaminski and his colleagues think one solution might be to rewrite those grazing instructions, telling ranchers to herd cattle close together. He said ranchers might also use more handlers on horseback for each herd so that wolves learn to associate cattle with people.

Also, moving a herd constantly throughout the summer could keep wolves from getting used to finding prey in just one location, Kaminski said.