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CA: Experts outline nonlethal measures to prevent wolf depredation

Livestock producers, government officials and university researchers detailed a half-dozen nonlethal measures that ranchers could use to prevent wolf attacks.

Tim Hearden
Capital Press

HAT CREEK, Calif. — In late 2015, seventh-generation rancher Jessica Oddo’s family was “unnerved” by California’s first suspected wolf depredation of a calf in Siskiyou County.

So last year, Oddo was among several far Northern California ranchers to attend a California Wolf Center-sponsored training in Montana to become range riders.

The riders take turns going out several times a week looking for tracks, scat or other signs of wolves and other wildlife that could harm cattle, which enables producers to move their livestock out of danger if possible.

For Oddo, having a human presence around to watch for any wolf activity is best because it helps ranchers respond more quickly than if they wait to be notified by state wildlife managers, she said.

“One of the most valuable things the California Wolf Center gave us was (access to) a number of people who have a long history of dealing with wolves and livestock,” Oddo told about 60 ranchers at a June 14 workshop on wolf-livestock conflicts. “That’s been the problem for us, that this is so new.”

The range rider program was one of about a half-dozen nonlethal measures for dealing with wolves highlighted at the all-day workshop. The event, hosted by Shasta County, was held at a fire hall and nearby cattle ranch in Hat Creek, about 70 miles northeast of Redding.

Livestock producers, government officials and university researchers gave detailed remarks about how to manage herds and put up safeguards to deter wolves and other predators. Among their advice:

• Managing herds so that they learn to stay together can give them safety in numbers, said Matt Barnes, a Bozeman, Mont.-based rangeland consultant. Wolves are less likely to attack a large herd, but scattered animals are easy prey, he said.

With one herd he managed, “we were right next to a coyote den … and the cows could mob up and run coyotes off,” Barnes said.

• Some producers cordon off their grazing cattle or sheep with fladry — a line of electrified cable with brightly colored flags that flap in the breeze. If the flags don’t discourage predators, the slight electric shock from the cable might.

But fladry is expensive, costing about $43,400 to protect a 40-acre pasture, and “we don’t like to keep it up for too long because the novelty of it” will wear off, said John Steuber, the Montana state director for USDA Wildlife Services.

• When a depredation or animal death does occur, it’s best to remove the carcass as soon as possible so it doesn’t attract more predators, Shasta County agricultural commissioner Paul Kjos said. But it’s illegal in California to bury carcasses, and the nearest rendering facilities are in Sacramento or Portland, he said.

The information from the presenters was valuable, said Betty Stephenson, whose family has been ranching near Bella Vista, Calif., since the 1850s. The operation hasn’t encountered wolves, but large dogs have killed a couple of its calves, she said.

“This is the first meeting we’ve attended” on wolf-livestock conflicts, she said. “We just want to know what’s going on. We want to know legally what ranches can do.”

Producers are grasping for nonlethal means to prevent wolf attacks as state and federal protections make it illegal to kill or hunt gray wolves even in cases of livestock depredation. Wolf advocates and state officials have been promoting such tools as using guard dogs, motion-sensor lights, fladry and range riders.

But if the wolf population balloons as quickly in California as it did in Montana, Wyoming and the Northwest, lethal measures in cases of depredation may eventually be necessary, Steuber said.

“We’ve got a lot of the same predators as you have here, but we have a lot more grizzly bears and a lot more wolves,” he said. “Predator management is integrated. Lethal methods have got to be part of the equation.”