The Wood River Wolf Project collaborative promotes the coexistence of livestock and wolves by proactively using nonlethal measures to prevent depredation.
The Wood River Wolf Project began in 2008 as a collaborative in central Idaho to promote predator and livestock coexistence.
In the 1930s gray wolves (Canis lupus) were almost eradicated from the lower 48 states, mainly to protect livestock producers from the threat of depredation. However, in 1974, wolves gained protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). Eventually, wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Wolves were reintroduced to Idaho in 1995 and 1996 and were managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Eventually, in Idaho, wolves met and exceeded their breeding pair, pack and population targets and were delisted under ESA in 2011. Since delisting, Idaho Department of Fish and Game has managed wolves in Idaho.
Sheep ranchers who are now collaborators in the Wood River Wolf Project began experiencing wolf depredation on their livestock as early as 2002.
In 2007 a newly-formed wolf pack, known as the Phantom Hill pack, began killing sheep along central Idaho’s “sheep superhighway” in the Wood River watershed of the Sawtooth National Forest during the summer grazing season. Normally, under these circumstances, members of the pack or the entire depredating family of wolves would be killed in response. However, Idaho’s Blaine County was the first area to adopt policy supporting nonlethal deterrents to keep wolves from killing livestock across a wide area.
Conservation organizations, ranchers, scientists, federal government agencies and county officials collaborated to implement nonlethal deterrent strategies in the Wood River Valley to prevent further losses in Blaine County. Because of this evolving partnership, state and federal wolf managers decided not to destroy wolves while these methods were tested.
Based on the successful application of nonlethal deterrents, the Wood River Wolf Project was formed in 2008. Over the next seven years, documented sheep losses to wolves in the Project Area were 90% lower than the rest of Idaho according to the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS). Additionally, no wolves within the Project Area have been lethally removed as of the middle of the 2016 field season.
Using nonlethal methods reduces management costs and social conflict while maintaining the wolf’s important ecological contributions. The Project uses a wide range of deterrents such as increasing human presence, guard dogs, Foxlights, noisemakers, and fladry, to prevent predator - livestock interaction. In addition, the Project seeks to bring people with different opinions and interests together to pursue common goals by engaging in stakeholder empowerment and trust-building.
Beginning in 2008, Defenders of Wildlife, led by Suzanne Stone, the Northern Rockies Wolf Coordinator, sponsored the WRWP and engaged paid field staff to respond to wolf activity within the Project Area. In 2015, the Lava Lake Institute for Science & Conservation assumed the role of fiscal agent for the Project from Defenders. Now the Project relies substantially on volunteers to accomplish its mission in the field. For more information on volunteering, see our Volunteer page.
"The Lords of Nature: Life in a Land of Great Predators" was released in 2009 and includes a seven-minute section featuring the work of the Wood River Wolf Project. Several of our collaborators and field staff were interviewed on camera.
"A Season of Predators" was filmed between May 2011 and April 2012 and features communities dealing with predator-livestock conflict in the Northern Rockies. One of these communities is the Wood River Valley. Several collaborators and field staff are also featured in this film.