Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lambing change may reduce wolf conflicts

Flat Top Ranch moves ewes to south desert


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

A sheep jumps over a creek at the Flat Top Ranch near Carey. Express file photo

    Following four seasons since 2008 of losing newborn lambs to wolves on his ranch near Carey, John Peavey this April began lambing his ewes in the desert about 20 miles to the south. The move was applauded by the nonprofit group Defenders of Wildlife as a way to avoid conflicts between livestock and wolves.
    The organization’s Wood River Wolf Project has had considerable success using nonlethal deterrents to reduce depredation on sheep in the Wood River Valley, and therefore the number of wolves killed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services. However, spring lambing on the range at Flat Top Ranch has always been a weak point in the project. The flocks have been spread over a large area, making the lambs easy prey for wolves. Last year, the ranch lost 31 ewes and lambs.
    “The wolves were in the sheep every night,” Peavey said.
    According to Wildlife Services, since 2008, 153 sheep and three calves were killed in the area in 19 incidents of depredation. In response, the agency killed 15 wolves.
    “We’re very pleased that John’s been able to change his lambing practices,” said wolf project Program Manager Suzanne Stone. “I think he deserves strong recognition for his willingness to address these conflicts.”
    Peavey said he took his flock of about 1,800 ewes to allotments on BLM land south of U.S. Highway 20 in April. He said about half the ewes gave birth there, but the flock had to be moved north as the desert dried in May. He said the remainder of the ewes gave birth on his ranch in the Muldoon Creek area.


It turned out just fine. We were really pleased.”
John Peavey
Rancher




    Peavey said he lost a couple of lambs to coyotes in the desert, but none to wolves, though he added that he didn’t have any losses this spring to wolves near Muldoon, either. Wildlife Services killed six wolves there last year.
    “It turned out just fine,” Peavey said. “We were really pleased.”
    He said the sheep are particularly vulnerable to predators in the spring because the ewes and newborn lambs need to be kept in small groups, spread over a large area, so the lambs can learn their mothers’ call. Otherwise, he said, they can’t find each other if they get mixed with a large group and separated from each other. He said that in April, the flock was scattered along an approximately five-mile-long section of dirt road.
    Peavey said roughly 20 percent of his allotments on public land in the area is within Craters of the Moon National Monument, where the BLM is amending its grazing plan following a successful lawsuit by Western Watersheds Project contesting the agency’s failure to consider a no-grazing alternative. The Hailey-based conservation organization contends that reducing or eliminating grazing is crucial to conserving sage grouse habitat in the monument.
    However, Peavey said continued grazing, at least in the spring, could help reduce the need to kill wolves.
    “That’s a place where I would urge the conservation groups that want to see landscapes well managed to come together and support this,” he said.
    Peavey said he expects to continue lambing operations on the southern allotments in future years.
    The Wood River Wolf Project, itself, however, faces an uncertain future. Stone said the project has only about half the $50,000 that it needs to keep a full crew in the field this summer.
    “I’m worried,” she said. “We’re in a tight bind right now. We won’t be able to cover all the sheep bands that come through this year.”
    Stone said private donations have dropped, perhaps due to people’s perception that the project has been so successful that it no longer needs financial help.
    Anyone who wants to contribute to the project can contact Stone at sstone@defenders.org.
Greg Moore: gmoore@mtexpress.com




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