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.