Fencing, range riders, guard animals show some promise in safeguarding livestock

Story by Mike Stark in the Billings Gazette. The same story in the Jackson Hole Star Tribune is “Ranchers get creative with Wolves,” but as I reported earlier the idea came from Montana FWP, Wildlife Services, and a USU graduate student who are doing this as a semi-controlled experiment. Non-traditional livestock operations will be tried too. It was not a rancher initiative.

It’s always good to see the misnamed federal agency, Wildlife Services helping with something that isn’t lethal.

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Look at the graph on livestock losses to wolves in Montana (from the Gazette article). Notice there is not a linear relationship between the number of wolves and the number of livestock killed. Earlier there were many predictions, including the USFWS, that there would be a losses in direct proportion to the number of wolves (a linear relationship). There were even predictions that the curve on the graph would rise as the number of wolves increased.

Graph of wolf depredations by year (and lethal control).

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  1. Layton Avatar

    “Notice there is not a linear relationship between the number of wolves and the number of livestock killed.”

    Where does this graph have anything to indicate the “number of wolves”? Are you speaking about a total number of wolves for the state, or in a particular area, or what?

    The only thing I can see that this graph shows is kind of — if you get rid of more one year, you don’t lose as many sheep the next.


    It doesn’t show it directly in the graph, but because of the growing wolf population, you can assume that each year (x-axis) represents a larger population of wolves. Ralph Maughan

  2. Denise Johnson Avatar
    Denise Johnson

    This is an excellent article! It shows that people can be educated to use non-lethal means to protect their livelihood. The comments to the story show we have a lot more educating to do! I’m glad to hear that there are ranchers out there who will adapt to wolves just as they had to adapt to coyotes, bear, elk, lions etc. These are the people (ranchers) Defenders really needs to support. Things are getting innovative. This is definetly something for the wolf conference at the end of the month.
    You just have to smile when you read articles like this.

  3. Renae Avatar

    An electric fence thats keeping you alive huh? Who invented the electric fence? I bet it was a rancher. Theres another type of fence that has been invented to. they call it sheep wire. I ve seen that one kill an antelope with my own eyes. it was was running fullspeed and tried to go through a sheep fence. It was stopped immediately from a broken neck.I suppose that thats my fault though too.At least you will say it is when you should know its not.Remember 1776? boy look at what we have accomplished in 231 years.But somethings trying to kill us again. To bad we didnt know about electricity before that war called the range war. The bad thing is we lost that war. I realize that it is the ranchers fault that the barbed wire fence is still destroying the land and killing things but they did everything in there power to try to stop it, including die for it. I bet the ranchers that died in that war have wanted to scream out at people who still blame them for a fence that was because of a sheep. Eat sheep much? Me either I hate sheep. I love beef though.Ever here of Rolling over in your grave?Im going to starve if the greenies win this one because the cows will be gone. I wont be able to eat elk or deer either like we used to because the wolves need them now. Forget growing food too if they win because theres a story on the next page that claims that cows and ranches ruin the land. the fields have to go because of the drought and that dams ruin rivers just to irrigate fields. whats the difference between lakes god makes and lakes humans make? Its called a damn.there is a beautiful picture of a sunset and a man in a small boat on a lake at this link .http://www.wuerthnerphotography.com/index.html. Now his name is george and he says man made lakes destroy the land and nature made lakes dont.If he really took that picture he would be able to tell you if that was something destroying us or just looking beautiful. DO I NEEED SAY MORE?????????????????

  4. SAP Avatar

    With the positive tone of the article, I hate to get all nit-picky, but I have to constructively criticize Denise’s emphasis on “education.”

    “Education” implies that we have some facts or information that these folks don’t have. If they had them, they would change their behavior. If we serve up the facts and information and they still don’t change, why, they’re obstinate and obtuse and we’ll just need to get them out of the way.

    This kind of thinking, I worry, leads us away from a clear understanding of the challenges we face in fostering coexistence between people and big carnivores.

    It appears that a lot of traditional [Euro-American] Westerners feel that their identity and worldview are under attack from many directions.

    Take, for example, the famous photo of Bruce Babbitt and others carrying the wolf box in Yellowstone back in 1995. That was CLEARLY a symbolic act (wasn’t like they were short of staff and had to get the Secy of Interior to fill in that day).

    If you like wolves, the message of that image was: the highest levels of our government support this act to right a wrong, and to restore the wolf to her rightful place in Yellowstone.

    If you don’t like them, the message was different: we are going to inflict wolves on you. We don’t care what you think. The highest levels of your government are arrayed against you.

    When people feel attacked in this way, they behave similarly to how they would respond to an attack on their very physical survival. And the newest findings from cognitive neuroscience seem to indicate that the brain treats physical threats and threats to identity as the same (Google “Social Cognitive Neuroscience UCLA” to learn more).

    In a sense, it IS “all in our heads,” but we’re hard-wired to be that way. There’s little we can do about it except understand it, accept ourselves as the biological entities we are, and act within our own constraints, rather than ignore them.

    When a person feels threatened in this way, can we expect them to calmly absorb new information and integrate it into his life?

    As a thought experiment, imagine trying to learn a new card game while sitting on a tin roof in a lightning storm.

    To make it worse, imagine that the person trying to teach you the new card game was someone you hated and distrusted.

    The first step in a situation like that is to assure the person that they are not threatened, rather than to start spewing information. It may sound touchy-feely, but we need to affirm to them that we value them and their identity.

    So, how would I prefer that we think about this challenge, since I don’t want to say it’s “education”?

    Well, how about something that emphasizes that we ALL have a lot to learn? How about something that emphasizes partnership instead of paternalism? Maybe “cooperative learning”?

    I’ll end this rant with a quote from Margaret Wheatley:

    “Every change is fostered by a change in self-perception. We will change our self if we believe that the change will preserve our self. We are unable to change if we cannot find ourselves in a new version of the world.”

  5. SAP Avatar

    Oh, and while I was pecking away at my above post, Renae’s note came in ahead of it.

    I would say Renae’s note makes my point WAY better about how people’s identities — their understanding of themselves and their place in the world — are being threatened.

    We can’t get down to the level of talking about fladry or guard dogs as long as the rhetoric keeps people this upset. Goes back again to trying to learn a card game on a tin roof in a lightning storm: not a learning moment!

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks for the insightful post. Yes, these folks feel threatened, and they respond like people who are threatened.

    Like a lot of people who feel threatened, they get the source of the threat wrong. They miss the real threats.

    For example, I keep mentioning the gas wells filling up Sublette County, WY and Renae defends the ranching instead.

    This kind of blindness is not a recent development that began with the wolf restoration.

    I moved back to Idaho (from graduate school) in 1971. Living “back East” (Wisconsin, somehow they didn’t they of themselves as “easterners 😉 ) quickly taught me the value of public lands.

    I soon was involved in conservation politics. I was on the Board of Director of the Idaho Environmental Council in just one year, and many other conservation organizations soon, thereafter. At the time I moved back to Idaho they were building the Teton Dam near Rexburg where I had spent part of my youth, and we know how that dam turned out. The local farmers didn’t learn a thing from its collapse and the loss of life and destruction.

    The very first group to oppose the “environmentalism” of the 1970s was not the polluting industries or pesticide peddlers, it was Western ranchers.

    In the middle 1970s in Eastern Idaho, a group of “upper valley” ranchers formed the Committee of Ten Thousand” who vowed to close their lands to environmentalists and shoot on sight. I would call that the initiation of threat! At the RARE I meetings in 1973 in Idaho Falls, an irritated rancher threatened to shoot me and the chair of the Economics Dept. He was bluffing.

    Despite a few individuals (usually with a smart spouse from a non-ranch background), never have I seen the ranchers on the conservation side of an issue, even when their interests were completely unaffected or would even benefit. On occasion they with grandly allow people to fight for them. For example, take ranchers in the Powder River Basin. Conservationists saved them from the energy industry in the late 1970s, and they got no thanks. Some are trying again, but I say let the coal and gas companies take their land, the ingrates!

    I found you can make a deal with mining companies, timber companies, even sub-dividers, but ranchers do make deals, they don’t negotiate, they would rather have no pie than split the pie. They will take a loss so that you will take a bigger loss.

    Because they are such a small minority and people like me are so typical (I grew up mostly in suburban Utah), I figured someone needed to speak up for the “downtrodden average Westerner,” and so I should join with others doing so.

    The livestock industry has had their guns pointed in the wrong direction from the beginning of change in the West, so no one should be surprised that there is growing hostility to this “icon of the West.”

    They are threatened, and part of the threat is their own making, but mostly it is impersonal forces much larger than them or anyone else in the West, and when they go out of business, they will blame the wrong thing.


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Ralph Maughan