Wood River Wolf Project Outreach: Nonlethal coexistence field day in the Blue Mountains of Oregon

Last week marked an exciting moment for the Wood River Wolf Project (WRWP). As wolf activity has quieted in the Wood River Valley over the last couple years, one begins to ponder what additional purposes could the Project serve. As one of the first nonlethal wolf management projects in the West, with over a decade of experience and countless wolf interactions, the future of growth for the Project may rest in outreach and education.

A band of sheep belonging to Krebs Livestock in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. Credit: U.S. Forest Service - Umatilla National Forest

A band of sheep belonging to Krebs Livestock in the Blue Mountains of Oregon.
Credit: U.S. Forest Service - Umatilla National Forest

As some of you may know, Defenders of Wildlife turned over management of the Project to the Lava Lake Institute in 2015. Instead of a full field crew, the summer staff consists of three part-time positions. We are working hard to 1) monitor the Project Area for predator activity, 2) connect with local herders to see if they have heard or seen any predators around their sheep bands, and 3) equip all operators with nonlethal tools and techniques. In addition to these activities, we recently had the privilege to share some of those experiences with a group of land managers, ranchers and herders in Elgin, Oregon. Elgin and the surrounding Blue Mountains are now seeing heavy wolf activity in the area and some local sheep operations are trying to figure out the best way to work with the wolves, especially as the final Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is underway. Shane Stevenson of Krebs Livestock contacted the WRWP, Lava Lake Land & Livestock, and Suzanne Stone at Defenders of Wildlife over the winter looking for some advice on how to manage wolves without resorting to lethal measures. These conversations lead to the decision to host a field meeting where representatives from various government, ranch, and wildlife organizations could get together and talk about the problem.

Reid Hensen (the author) and Claudio demonstrate the use of nonlethal tools. Credit: Shane Stevenson

Reid Hensen (the author) and Claudio demonstrate the use of nonlethal tools.
Credit: Shane Stevenson

Myself (a measly bilingual intern) and Claudio (Lava Lake’s Camp Tender for over 10 years) made the six-hour trek from Lava Lake’s main ranch outside of Carey, ID to Elgin, OR to represent both Lava Lake and the Wood River Wolf Project. The meeting was held high above town in the mountains where recent wolf activity has been precariously close to sheep bands. The meeting allowed time for Suzanne Stone (a co-founder of the Project) to explain the creation and history of the WRWP, discussion regarding the current Oregon Wolf Plan, and demonstrations and experiences with nonlethal tactics. My main role was to give a little background on where the Project stands today and translate for Claudio, who has years and years of experience dealing with heavy predation activity around sheep bands. We were able to connect with local herders and provide them with some peace of mind and some new tools in how they can protect their animals and mitigate issues with a few new techniques.

Suzanne Stone (Defenders of Wildlife) and Claudio demonstrate how to set up fladry.  Credit: U.S. Forest Service - Umatilla National Forest

Suzanne Stone (Defenders of Wildlife) and Claudio demonstrate how to set up fladry
Credit: U.S. Forest Service - Umatilla National Forest

We are so thrilled that we can serve as an example to other areas in the West on how they too can work with the wolf and predator populations to protect their animals as well as protect the predators. Wolves can travel more than 50 miles a day in search of food and while the Wood River Wolf Project area may be vast, wolf packs easily travel around the West. Therefore, we cannot isolate knowledge or techniques in managing these animals with arbitrary lines on a map. The WRWP is excited to continue outreach efforts and is currently working on assembling videos and other tools, in English and Spanish, to help other operators in wolf country around the west integrate our tools and methods with their landscapes.

Reid Hensen
Lava Lake Institute for Science & Conservation Intern
Wood River Wolf Project Field Technician and Translator