Finding a balance between wolves and livestock
By JOHANNA BERNHARD H&N Staff Reporter
BONANZA — In the early 1900s, anti-predator campaigns around the world eradicated the wolf population.
Following near extinction and the subsequent reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, experts are still working to find a balance between wolves and livestock.
During the ‘Wolves, Livestock and People Workshop’ at the Bonanza Community Center Tuesday, members and guests of the Working Circle Collaborative discussed the relationship between people, wolves and livestock in northern California and southern Oregon.
The workshop was led by various wildlife officials, including government agencies, environmentalists and ranchers to help ranchers craft solutions, in a bid to reduce wolf-livestock conflict.
The California Wolf Center based in southern California researches, conserves and educates about wolf recovery in the wild.
“In order for wolf recovery to be successful, we’ve got to work with effective people,” the director of the California Wolf Center’s northern office Karin Vardaman said.
Most of the suitable land for wolves, particularly in California, is on private ranch land, which poses a threat for livestock and ranchers, Vardaman said.
“Although [wolves] are important to the ecosystem,” she said, “when we brought wolves back, we weren’t prepared for them and the impact on livestock.”
Vardaman said when conservation groups attempt to tackle the issue of wolves and livestock, they don’t get to the root of the problem. The purpose of the workshop is to show ranchers that they already have the tools and the knowledge to live with predators, and the experts want to show them how to manage the wolves from the inside out.
“We want to merge that with the science of wolf biology and behavior so ranchers can learn not only how to live with predators but how to work around them,” Vardaman said.
After all, she says, it is their land and livestock.
“What it comes down to: We don’t want to see cows die because of wolves and we don’t want wolves killed because of cows,” Vardaman said.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Acting Wolf Program Coordinator Roblyn Brown discussed the growing wolf population in Oregon. At the end of 2015, there were 110 known wolves, she said.
Brown told participants at the workshop to keep wolves wild and not encourage “attractive behavior” that would bring them closer to civilization, such as leaving bone piles available for the predators.
She also spoke about the value and effectiveness of non-lethal deterrents, such as fladry fencing, cow bells and guard dogs.
Although wolf depredations decreased slightly from 2014 to 2015, Brown says non-lethal deterrents don’t always work and at times officials from the Fish and Wildlife Service have to kill problem wolves.
Joe Engelhart, a rancher from Alberta, Canada, grew up with livestock and wolves. He thinks killing wolves is unproductive and hopes people learn there are different ways to deal with them.
If people run into issues with wolves, Engelhart says they should call on wildlife officials to help them manage the problem.
“Don’t worry so much as to chasing the wolf away,” he says, “but stay with the livestock.”
The Working Circle Collaborative plans to host two meetings a year, including another workshop on wolves in April.