As herders bring their sheep down from the hills for the season, the Wood River Wolf Project is reporting a mostly successful summer keeping the domestic animals and wolves apart.
Project steering committee member Larry Schoen said herders reported only one incident of wolf depredation this season, when seven or eight sheep were killed this spring in the Dip Creek drainage, on the east side of state Highway 75 just north of Ketchum.
“There was a much-elevated wolf presence over the past couple of years, so with only one depredation early in the season, that’s a pretty good outcome,” Schoen said.
The Wolf Project was started in 2008 by the nonprofit conservation group Defenders of Wildlife to save the lives of both livestock and wolves by facilitating the use of nonlethal deterrents. The project works with five regional sheep producers, training their herders in deterrent techniques such as fladry (strips of cloth strung along the outside of sheep bands at night), noisemakers and lights.
In 2015, Defenders handed the leadership role to the Lava Lake Institute for Science & Conservation, a nonprofit organization founded by Brian and Kathleen Bean, co-owners of the sheep-producing business Lava Lake Land & Livestock. It is run by a steering committee consisting of Brian Bean, Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson and Schoen, a former Blaine County commissioner.
Schoen said this season’s one wolf depredation incident, on seven Lava Lake sheep, was due to allowing a small group of sheep to be off on their own unattended. He said Lava Lake provided more support to the herders there immediately after.
He said he’s aware of one other sheep lost to a predator this season; herders reported that it was killed by a bear in the Lake Creek drainage, north of Ketchum.
Brian Bean said Lava Lake lost three guard dogs to wolves this season. He said one of those dogs ran out to defend a sheep band against 10 wolves.
However, he said, no wolves were killed by the federal wildlife Services agency this season.
Suzanne Stone, former Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife who led the project since its inception, has returned to head it for six weeks until the end of the grazing season.
“She’s considered an expert in nonlethal deterrents,” Schoen said.
Stone and several other people running the project were among the co-authors of a paper titled “Adaptive use of nonlethal strategies for minimizing wolf–sheep conflict in Idaho” published in the February 2017 issue of the Journal of Mammalogy.
“As a result, people around the world are aware of our project here in Blaine County,” Schoen said. “These methodologies are being adopted more widely every year.”
Stone said she has travelled to Australia, Spain and Greece to share what she’s learned with sheep producers there.
“I’ve been everywhere telling people about the project, and it’s exciting to see the impacts it’s had,” she said.
80 sheep killed in trampling incident
In mid-August, a band of about 1,500 sheep belonging to the Flat Top Sheep Co. was being herded down the upper part of Uncle John’s Gulch, a tributary drainage to Corral Creek east of Sun Valley, when they became caught in a “terrain trap” created by avalanche debris in a steep ravine, Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said. He said a herder reported that 80 sheep were trampled to death as a result.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” he said.