Monday, March 17, 2014

Wolves and Livestock: Can They Coexist?

Know what's AWESOME? In the whole state of Washington in all of 2013, only one cow was killed by wolves. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been helping ranchers with awesome, creative ways to keep their livestock safe without having to kill a single wolf in any of Washington's thirteen wolf packs. Non-lethal methods are often very effective, and wolves and livestock CAN coexist. It does take a lot of effort and it's only fair that livestock owners get some help with nonlethal methods, whether from state or federal wildlife agencies or private organizations. Both are at work in Washington and with great results. Wolves usually view cattle and sheep as sort of alien, not as prey. Often, something happens that causes a wolf to associate livestock with food, such as the carcass of a cow or sheep that died of natural causes being left out in the open. The smell of rotting meat will attract wolves and they will scavenge on the carcass, which may cause them to associate living livestock with food. Only 20% of wolves cause problems with livestock, but those problems are highly publicized. The best way to keep livestock safe is to stop wolves from associating livestock with food in the first place, and there are lots of ways to go about this. Even if wolves do start preying on livestock, it's not too late to get them to stop. Here are some very neat and creative nonlethal deterrents and a handbook on how ranchers can use them: http://www.defenders.org/sites/default/files/publications/livestock_and_wolves.pdf

"Fladry" is a little on the wackier of the non-lethal methods, but it has proven very effective. Fladry is simply red flags along a string. For some reason, something about the fladry trips wolves up and they will not cross the line it makes. Wolves are very intelligent, so in case they do test the boundaries, there's also something called turbofladry, which is fladry with an electric current. So if the wolf tries to touch or step over or under the fladry, it will be met with an unpleasant experience and probably won't try again. Nobody really knows what it is about fladry that deters wolves, but it does. Don't believe it? See for yourself.
video video
This calf in Washington state died of natural causes and this wolf scavenged on it before fladry was erected around the calf (the carcass couldn't be moved). The wolf visited for three days and nights but never once crossed the fladry (though he walked through the barbed wire fence with ease). Eventually he left the area and dispersed to Canada.

Some will argue that killing wolves is the better option to protect livestock, but this is not the case. Killing wolves after wolves kill livestock creates an endless cycle. Killing a wolf or wolf pack after it kills livestock only creates room for more wolves to move in and potentially kill livestock again, so then those wolves will be killed and more wolves will move in...and so on and so forth. Livestock will keep getting killed and the problem won't be solved. But if you teach the resident wolf pack not to harm livestock, then you won't lose livestock in the first place. 
Wolves and livestock can coexist.

If you've ever eaten a steak or worn wool, you're impacting wolves and other predators/wildlife. It doesn't have to be a negative impact, though; please check out http://www.predatorfriendly.org/ to support businesses practicing predator-friendly methods!