Is this story worth a story in Oregon’s largest paper?
Is there any real news in this story, or is it speculation over a minor matter?
There is a journalistic adage, “if it bleeds, it leads.” And near Jospeph, Oregon, in the NE corner of the state, we learn from the Oregonian newspaper on the other side of the state that a mule might have bled. At a minimum it was dead. It might even have been killed by wolves, but is that a rush to judgment. Read this story. Wolf probably killed mule near Joseph, state wildlife officials believe. By Richard Cockle, The Oregonian.
The facts as presented in the story are as follows. 1. The remains of a mule were found on private ranchland on January 13. 2. On January 14, state officials examined the remains of the mule (its scattered legs and cleaned rib cage) 3. Wolf tracks were observed in the snow near the carcass. 4. The officials determined that a wolf or wolves had fed on the carcass. 5. They also discovered that the carcass had been consumed too by coyotes, ravens and eagles in addition to wolves. 6. The bites did not show how the mule died though there was some blood in the snow nearby so there might have been pre-mortem bites or injury from something. 7. The mule might have been killed by predators. 8. It might have also died for some other reason. 9. At least one member of the local wolf pack, the Imnaha Pack, was in the general area about January 10. That pack has killed 21 cattle since mid 2010. 10. Because at least one wolf had fed on the mule and because of the history of the pack, the state concluded it was “probable” the mule was killed by wolves.
Richard Cockle wrote in the lead paragraph in the Oregonian that” livestock may have taken a new tack with the discovery of a mule that probably was killed by a wolf, state officials said today.”
Does anyone besides me see anything more than a long chain of assumptions to the conclusion the mule was probably killed by a wolf? Is it equally likely on the basis of information given in the story that the mule just died and then all the local scavengers fed on it? In other words did this lead even bleed, giving that dead animals don’t bleed when consumed by a scavenger.
Most significant to me is this question.Why is a dead mule in the middle of nowhere fed on by a variety of scavengers a statewide story?
– – –
Note: I gathered a few additional facts from stories on this incident not given in the Oregonian, such as the mule was owned by a local outfitter and there might have been some bleeding.
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.
94 Responses to Is this story worth a story in Oregon’s largest paper?
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I assume the probable kill will qualify the owner of the mule to be compensated. If so, it must be nice to have such poor husbandry skills and to get compensated for it.
All while WM and others “jump the gun” to blame wolves…..Gotta get that hysterical factless nonsense stirred up…..it’ a pattern in the West.
I just made a link to the story(ies). It might be more fruitful to connect the dots between the Imnaha pack, 20 confirmed previous livestock kills in the last 19 months, AND a new livestock kill (yearling cow)from last week in the same area. That makes 21. Now a mule? Maybe, but when the evidence is eaten how do they know? Should the media remain quiet and not report at all, ignoring the ODFW official report on the matter?
Hardly factless hysteria, sport.
yeah, you’re right WM. One paper (WallowaCounty) already has this as a wolf kill. One wolf from the Imnaha pack was in the general area on Jan 10. Unreported “bleeding” from an outfitter who owned the mule, and wolf tracks showing feeding on the carcass. That’s some ironclad evidence they got there! Call in the slobs at WS!!
Maybe Ralph or someone could get a copy of the ODFW forensics report and sheriff’s report. The meaningful and operative words and conclusions are theirs, not the press’s, yours or mine.
First of all, I want to say I am not pleading to save this wolf pack because it has killed so many cattle. The pack has served its function to help repopulate the state, and it will be replaced by another pack or two, probably located in a better place.
However, WM, there is no clear set “of dots.” They only become clear to those who know what happened before they looked at anything. Every “dot” has one or more alternative explanations.
Even if this is kill number 22 from this wolf pack, why is this such a story?
I can speculate, or maybe say, “follow the dots,” it is to create an uproar so folks won’t notice that the Hunter family just had they property right’s violated by Wallowa County with the final denial of their application of a bed and breakfast. After all, what are as person’s constitutional rights when compared to a mule dead of some thing or other?
++Even if this is kill number 22 from this wolf pack, why is this such a story?++
Given the history and huge publicity of the Imnaha Pack, the controversey regarding lethal control and the fact that there are not that many wolves in OR, seems to set the stage for the answer to that question. Also, recall some disagreement among professionals regarding assignment of a livestock death as a confirmed wolf (Remember the dispute between WS, ODFW and WSU vet school forensics, and the panel convened to review conclusions, which included Carter Neimeyer), I think this is an a example of the same thing.
What will be the next steps for remaining Imnaha Pack members in the area? Who will come out of the woodwork to challenge ODFW and its wolf management plan, possibly in court should they choose lethal control on some or all wolves that remain in the area?
What happens when kill …23, 24 or 30 is confirmed, if this latest heifer kill (and maybe a mule) does not tip the balance?
I wonder if once a wolf has tasted/smelled mule, or maybe brought one down (the information from the report states wolf bruising and bites before/at death), does that then open doors for future focus on another mule, or a horse, which looks and maybe smells similar to the mule they have just eaten? Seems to be a trend for those slow and easy cattle and sheep meals.
There are lots of reasons this is a story and the number of kills attributed to wolves are a big part of it. The more dots to the pattern the easier it is to see where they lead. Maybe we aren’t there yet, but the growing body evidence seems to suggest otherwise.
And, again, there is educational value to the story. Watching your livestock might mean more than cows or sheep. That is an aspect not widely reported, but should be.
++it must be nice to have such poor husbandry skills and to get compensated for it.++
So when are you an expert the husbandry skills of mules and horses. My father told me the best thing for your horse or mule is to let it winter in a very large pasture, 1000 to 5000 acres. Let the animal be an animal, let it run through the snow drifts, forage for food and have it’s freedom. Come the spring the horses/mules disposition has changed, the muscles are strong and developed, the animal is ready for the summer and fall riding season. The horse/mule has had it’s freedom.
Now landowners have to deal with a predator that has been absent on the landscape for nearly 100 years. This predator is going to restrict the optimal usage of deeded pasture lands, increase the time and cost to the owners.
You answered my post. You think you can just leave a mule to roam 5000 acres or 10 sq miles and assume it will come back. That is plain poor husbandry if you don’t expect it to have interactions with other animals: lion, bear, and now wolf. If you let the animal be the animal, then maybe we shouldn’t blame another animal for killing it. Now, this would be diff’t if wolves came into a fenced pasture and/or barn – but we know that wasn’t the case.
And maybe the outfitter saw the upside of wolves killing his mule. Less wolves- more elk and deer for his clients. I wouldn’t trust this outfitter as far as I could throw him. If there was blood- test it to make sure it’s even the mules…..Not that any outfitter would do that…..sacrificing his own animal for the attention and negative publicity generated at the wolves expense
So there was blood a ways away from the main portion of the carcass… I have seen bears, wolves, coyotes and others grab a big, bloody glob of guts or whatever from a carcass and take it off several yards and set it down to either eat there or locate a better spot – especially if other animals are present… just sayin’
++Now, this would be diff’t if wolves came into a fenced pasture and/or barn – but we know that wasn’t the case.++
Do not show your supidity of the west, I have seen a fenced pasture over 5000 acres. I have bought oil and gas leases in Oregon where one ranch was over one township in size, 36 sections (square miles) or over 23,000 acres in size. An outfitter friend of mind pastures his horses and mules in a 50,000 pasture in Eastern Montana. These are fenced pastures. The benefits of a large pasture offer more amenities to wildlife and livestock than small chopped up padocks.
People due expect their animals will have interactions with lions and bears, but remember wolves were reintroduced and now it is up to the fee owner (private landowner) to deal with this new predator that was reintroduced. Ten plus years ago these landowners did not have to worry about wolves now they due and have very little recourse as to what they can due.
I have no problems with wolves, but they must be managed and controled the same as livestock. That is the way it is.
BTW: Concerning the denial of the B & B in Enterprise, Oregon. This same ranch that was in access of 36 fee sections was unable to construct a new home for their son who was going to become a partener on the family ranch due to land planning regulations. I have always remember them telling me about this. It appears that land planning regulations are overly retrictive in Oregon and it has affected the B & B owner as well as the large rancher. This was 30 years ago.
Interesting comment from the story….
“Ranchers won’t build fences because they need to draw wild game onto their lands so they can sell the leases to outfitters who in turn charge hunters 3-6000.00 to bag their buck in an alfalfa field planted specifically for that purpose. They just need the wolves to go away, not OUR deer and elk. I’d becurious to know just how many publically owned deer and elk the unnamed mule owner sells each year.”
He does not sell the the public owned deer and elk. He sells the tresspass rights. I detest outfitters and the leasing of lands for private hunting.
“He does not sell the the public owned deer and elk. He sells the tresspass rights.”
Hookers don’t sell sex, only the trespass
rights to their bodies.:-)
One thing that has always amazed me is how outfitters in the Yukon get away leaving their horses to range free most of the year and then still have plenty of useable pack animals for hunting season. They have been a common site for many decades, free-ranging along the Alaska Highway, miles from any settlement, since my first trip up it in 1963. The interior Yukon has lots of grass in places and low snowfall (although very cold), which explains how they find enough to eat to keep going at up to -50 to -60 degrees F at times, but there are also plenty of wolves, not to mention bears. They are tough horses. I’m sure if Bob Jackson still posted here, we would hear plenty about how their healthy social “infrastructure” protects them from being picked off one after another by wolves.
In April of 1976 I left the ferry dock in Hainnes and drove non stop to Fairbanks. Somewhere in the Yukon I pass an outfitter’s lodge and there were horses up and down the highway. A 100 yards or so beyond the house was a black wolf lying down 50 feet from the highway. I stop and look at the wolf and the it got up and limped away. I returned to the lodge and the ask the outfitter if he had wounded a wolf. “No” he said but he had seen a black wolf hanging around the horse several times yesterday. He felt that the wolf had been kicked by one of the horses. He grabed his rifle and off we when on a wolf hunt. Never found the wolf and I had to get to Fairbanks that evening so I never knew what happen.
Most Yukon outfitters figure that they will lose 5% of the horse herd in the winter to wolves.
That’s actually not a bad loss rate for free feed. I was going to say maybe we saw the same limping black wolf, but the one I saw ran across the road hundreds of miles southeast on the Yukon-B.C. border at Contact Creek and it was almost a year earlier (August 1975). I got excited, grabbed my camera, jumped out and tore after it. I caught up with him in the thick and he just turned around and looked at me calmly with those penetrating yellow eyes, and I backed away up to the road and left without getting any photo.
There is a compensation program in place, but the account is frozen for now.
To date there have been over 2800 stories on one wolf wandering out of Oregon to California. A wolf that is going to get run over by a car. People take an interest in the most trivial things. A horse in Idaho getting eaten isn’t news worthy unless you can tie an interesting story to it. I don’t understand what difference it makes if wolves ate it or there is only a 99% chance wolves ate it. If it makes a difference to you, then I guess there’s the reason for the story right there.
I agree Somsai, very trivial things make a big stink… As a species, we seem to like outliers – probably why we are so fascinated with murders, etc.
If you can’t differentiate between a wild wolf entering California for the first time in 100 years with a bleeding mule, then it’s time to stop posting and time to start reading.
Not sure what the formula is for including a story such as this in a major newspaper, except that it does have an appealing human interest angle, and wolves are a hot current topic of interest in both OR and WA. A reporter for one of these larger papers picks up a local story off the wire/internet, makes a couple of quick phone calls for verification (ODFW), and the journalist has his/her own story for the day. That is one easy business case explanation.
No doubt for a local paper, where news of interest might be scarce (for small towns/small circulation there can be no doubt there is scarcity of news, as they sometimes report on things as mundane as crocheting parties or who went on a trip with whom to Europe, for example). Wolves are clearly a topic of interest in NE Oregon these days. The investigating sheriff gets his name in the paper, too. Shows he’s doing something.
From an educational perspective, whether more probable than not that wolves were responsible (that is the ODFW standard, and they reach it very carefully as we know from past stories carried on this forum), ought to be good enough for a story such as this. Much of the evidence was eaten anyway, which makes it all the harder for a forensic conclusion, which I bet they did not take lightly. Does that mean they DON’T report it as probable wolf kill, even in light of the circumstantial evidence? The question is, does this ALONE rise to the level of a kill order for the wolves believed to be responsible?
The story certainly serves an educational objective – keep your livestock safe. That has value everywhere wolves are likely to go.
Then there is that educational part that people need to understand what it means to have wolves around. Wolves do kill horses, burros, llamas, dogs, turkeys, chickens, sheep, cattle, …and apparently the occasional mule. More wolves in more places means this kind of incident will happen more often. People need to know that.
Looks like the Seattle PI (web only newspaper as of two years ago) also picked up an abbreviated version of the story. It has also been picked up by the LaGrande and Baker, OR, and Bellingham, WA newspapers as well. There will likely be more. Maybe there will be follow-ups, as it appears the Imnaha Pack (responsible for 21 confirmed livestock kills in the last 19 months or so) will again become a topic for lethal control measures. One can expect some locals will be calling for it. Not so much for the mule death (not confirmed with certainty), but the confirmed wolf kill heifer death of Jan. 7 in the very same area.
So, from my knothole, it seems lots of mainstream media folks (and readers for whom they write) might find value in the story, suggesting it is not a “minor matter.
I think, as Cody Coyote says below, that these newspapers were just engaging in thoughtless follow-the-leader, here’s a story journalism.
Maybe I am guilty too. I saw the story on-line. I thought, “what an unimportant story!” Then I thought, “I should write a story about the papers covering an incident of such small importance — one based on so little hard information.”
So I did.
As a lifelong photojournalist whose worked the news trade for 45 years , I have some lamentations . This article is a pretty good example of my concerns in the context of this rolling blog.
1. Journalism has devolved. And that Devolution was far more rapid and extensive that it was thought possible. Who predicted this in the late 1980’s ? Noone I can recall. The core principles of bedrock news reporting I was taught in the 60’s and 70’s— by high school teachers, college professors , and salty old pros at the local pulp podium— have been largely abrogated in this millenium . It began before the rise of the Internet when newspapers and magazines got treated as investment opportunities rather than commonwealth . The News went from a nonprofit public service using time honored practices to For Profit industries employing all manner of capitalist blunt instruments. The collateral damage was loss of Copy Editors, plundering the newsrooms; a hundred other symptoms but the aggregate results being the shift to shallow reporting spread over the largest possible area ( predicating the newspaper/radio station/broadcaster circulation entirely on plumbing the Market vs. serving the readership/listeners/viewers . The Bottom Line should be : Good journalism was never intended to be For Profit. But today’s reality is straining as far as possible in the other direction , and largely failing. Investors and stockholders got seduced by newspapers returning a 20 erpcent or even 30 percent profit , and a whole lotta Wall Street types bought in without bringing any expertise to the table, only their greed. The more that news outlets became investment opportunities, the greater the devolution and discombobulation of the very thing they were investing in . Capitalism ran roughshod over journalism , by its nature. The Great Firewall separating the newsroom from the advertising wing got torn down, and ” new” journalism being profit driven it was inevitable that Advertising would start dictating to Editorial. The Managing Editor and the Publisher now held the reins of the reporters. Uh oh…
Nobody really knew it at the time, but when the Internet asteroid hit in 1995 , large newsgathering organizations were the dinosaurs who had ruled imperiously , and not without integrity I should add , but were nevertheless about to become mortal. The small furry animals on the forest floor were PC’s ( and now smartphones). The ecosystem changed. The business model imploded. Newspapers got skinnier and thinner and editting became triage. In order to sell anything at all, a lot more fluff and non-news had to be included in the fare. As someone who has always been a ” hard news ” person , I deplore what passes for a newspaper these days. Once proud papers that delivered a wealth of information and critically editted articles now more resemble supermarket tabloids and shoppers, stuffed full of flyers with actual stories crowded out by in-your-face advertisements. Worst of all , when it comes to content, the new mediums are feeding on each other rather than doing their own newsgathering and analysis and employing the requisite amounts of professional skeptical and multiple sources of attribution. ( The latter is especially troubling. Too much ” news” today is actually rewritten PR sendouts from a special interests jacking the media . ) The ubiquitous Associated Press, a consortium owned by the newspapers themselves has for the most part degenerated into a recycling mill. What little original reporting it does these days from its grossly understaffed underfunded bureaus is hopelessly shallow , yet the AP wire becomes that day’s scripture.
We can converse all day on those points, but I should get to my second point.
2. Reporting on wildlife issues has suffered more than most topics by the devolution and downsizing of workaday journalism. This Oregonian piece and Ralph’s comments are good witnessing. There are not very many real professional journalists covering wildlife , public lands, and general conservation issues that really have the depth and understanding of the landscape. Because they also have to cover the rest of the cultural encyclopedia on a 24-hour newscycle, under pressure, with limited resources. To compensate for those shortcomings, today’s reporters depend too much on other reporters’ work, or lacking that they report issues based on single sources of attribution. THAT is a cardinal sin in professional journalism , when and where other sources exist or were elemental in the actuality but not investigated.
There are many reasons why Mules bleed and die. Why did this Oregonian story immediately pounce on wolves with its pointy probability pikestaff ?
If you can answer to all that , you can be the next Rupert Murdoch.
In the meantime we should all thank Ralph and his Merry Men for providing an excellent forum of alternative journalism that tries to hold to the centerline of discourse and the factuality of the actuality . At least on Wildlife issues dear to us all. ( or you wouldn’t be reading this )
In general, sites like this are uncommom. I’m not just talking about wildlife, but tons of other issues as well.
People are bombarded by so much garbage in our various forms of media that it is quite an endeavor to sift through it and gain any kind of informed conclusion.
The Oregonian’s Richard Cockle has, as they say, drank the Kool-Aid. He’s worked in Eastern Oregon forever and it shows. Why The O doesn’t get him out of there and on to the obit desk is anyone’s guess. Write to Therese Bottomly, the managing editor.
I bet this kind of information seldom (if ever) makes the headlines:
Here is another story, by a local author, with many more details, a pic of the mule (Annie) alive. There is also a linked lengthy YouTube video with more details (all indications it is a pretty well done slant piece). I have not viewed it, other than about the first 2 minutes of over 12.
WOW – a very professionally done video (somebody’s been taking lessons from Rockhead?) Appears as though they were just waiting for something other than a cow or sheep to get killed, to put a wrap on the video and get it out as a special interest story or as it states at the end – for sale.
Couple of things – appeared to be two different pictures of the mule remains. One shot had a good portion of the mule (head,hide, etc.) intact. Another shot had just the ribcage, spine intact, legs scattered about.
The pics of cows with fetuses removed? (although one was still inside) The cows were dead but did not appear to have been fed on. I have to wonder if they died during delievery. Happens all the time around here. One of the major reasons for livestock losses – calving.
Are some of the ranchers in Oregon, like many here in Montana, who still leave dead livestock laying around and then have a “cow” when wolves get a taste of beef?
I thought the same thing Nancy. Rockhead goes to Hollywood!!! The bereaved owners of their “companion mule” that was left outside without any protection. Some people have a strange way of showing their affection…
William you have no idea, there are thousands of horses and mules left outside in the Gallatin Valley year round. Some in 1 acre padocks and others in 1000 acre plus pastures. These people care about there animals.
You stated the other day that you felt sorry for me, why. I feel sorry for you working in a prison, not that there is anything wrong with it. The other day I was doing some work, working the same as you, and spent over an hour looking at 10 mountain sheep, 6 rams and 4 lambs and ewes.
Why would a wolf go after livestock when there are supposed to be plenty of elk in the vicinity?
Livestock is normally an easy target for predators, predators are opportunistic and will take the easiest prey if they can. The majority of the time they will take elk and deer if available, but they do take livestock sometimes.
Thanks WM, that was a pretty good video, though I think there is a long way to go to reach the level of a lot of the wolf vids I’ve seen. You know the ones of the little puppies licking their mums nose and stuff.
The vid could have had a crying little girl who had lost her pet, or a sound track of Annie being eaten. Cowboys are better at outdoors type things, not so great at propaganda vids.
Maybe we should add a rider to SOPA or PIPA that says all wolf articles need checked for absolute original fact.
Unfortunately I’m at a disadvantage because I haven’t seen the necropsy photos of the mule. A more important message to take away from this incident is that attacks by wolves on horses and mules are very rare events. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery 2010 Interagency Annual Report shows that 14 horses and 4 miniature horses have been confirmed killed by wolves over the last 24 years. To find the average, do the math. In my entire career examining dead livestock, I personally never confirmed a single mule or horse killed by wolves and I looked at a lot of dead livestock. The definitions for categorizing dead livestock may not be perfect either, so each person in the field has to make a judgement call as to whether livestock are confirmed killed, probably killed, possibly killed or died from some unknown cause. The mule was listed as a probable wolf kill which means the evidence was less than clear. There are those who want wolves to be seen as a major problem on the landscape and I believe that is what drives these news stories. It is an emotional event for the family that lost the mule but nonetheless, let’s not forget about the economic effects of rustling, poaching, disease, aging, accidents, poisons, lightening and a host of other causes. Frankly, I dream of the day that we can move on to bigger issues that we all face and not get hung up on the occasional loss of a pet or livestock or the death of a wolf. It doesn’t happen (legitimately) as often as you might think.
Would it not be more representative to trim that 24 years down to say about 10, or less?
For example it appears there were not many wolves in the NRM prior to the reintroduction in 1995(except a few in Western MT)?
Then, one would need to look at the distribution of wolves, as their numbers and range increased. Yellowstone wolves were not really in horse country, nor were the wolves in Central ID, and there was a pretty naive and plentiful prey base in both.
So, the following quote, from the 2010 Interagency report, seems to be a more relevant and real time trend:
++Confirmed livestock depredations by wolves in 2010 were down from 2009 levels but included 199 cattle, 249 sheep, 2 dogs, and 15 other livestock (2 llamas, 6 goats, 4 horse, 4 miniature horses, and a domestic bison++ [p.8]
And it is important to note that the 4 miniatures and 4 of the 18 horses you cite above in your post were, in fact, killed in 2010, with apparently no reported horse mortality in 2009, but the trend to include horses begins in about 2001.
More wolves in more places, utilizing wider types of habitat with more domestic livestock of different types at higher density seems to be a more reasonable conclusion, than trying to minimize impacts by going all the way back to 1987 (the basis for the 24 year period of record you cite).
In all it is still a very small number of domestic animals that are killed (or injured but not reported in the statistics), but I think the conversation is better when the summary statistics are objectively represented with adequate details.
and Table 5:
It is always nice to have a table to look at. People forget the data is there, but there needs to be a narrative explaining the table too. I think the 4 miniature horses should be deducted if you are looking for a trend because they were probably all killed at once.
The entire enterprise of discussing if there is an upward trend in the number of horses that wolves kill when the totals are so small reminds me of pondering tables as to whether the incidence of some kind of rare cancer has increased slightly based on 3 one year, 5 the next, 2 the next, 6 the next, 4 the next, etc.
Is it important? Only if you have an agenda and are looking for selective data.
++ I think the 4 miniature horses should be deducted if you are looking for a trend because they were probably all killed at once.++
With due respect, I am trying to understand your post. If 4 dogs, sheep…whatever were killed at one time by multiple wolves, why would it be necessary to not count the total number of animals killed? It would only be a record of the event, and not the damages resulting from the event. It would go against the very framework of the damages statistics recorded, and the compensation given (if the animal is eligible). And, since it would appear multiple animal events involve multiple wolves, that might be an inadvertent distortion, as well.
++Is it important? Only if you have an agenda and are looking for selective data.++
You are certainly right about that.
Great point, WM. Fortunately, there is a really easy way of taking into account the fact that the wolf population was much smaller in the late 1980s than it is now; that is, one simply needs to calculate the ratio of “other” depredations (the category that includes horses) to wolves.
I used the USFWS’s data 1987-2010 to do just that(i.e., Other / Total Wolves) for the northern Rocky Mountain wolf meta-population. Here’s what I found…
The ratio indeed increased; however, this is due to the fact that there were no (zero) depredations in the category from 1987 – 1998. Starting in 1999, the ratio of other depredations to total wolves was 0.003; since that time it has varied from a low of 0.000 in 2000 to a high of 0.013 in 2003. In the four most recent years it was 0.009 (2007), 0.010 (2008), 0.004 (2009), and 0.009 (2010).
Ralph’s point is germane here: these numbers are infinitesimally small and jump around quite a bit (meaning no significant trend).
Also, there are some real, and legitimate concerns about the accuracy of the calls made on at least one of horse depredations made in Idaho a couple of years ago. Even that can skew the stats when dealing with such small numbers. I imagine that there may be concerns about some of the other calls as well.
Okay, so this data proved too interesting to leave alone. I ran the same simple analysis to look for a trend in depredations/wolf. Interestingly, small numbers got in the way again. Specifically, the highest depredation rate was actually 1987 when 10 wolves killed 10 sheep in 6 cattle in northwest Montana (1.6 depr. / wolf). The next highest years were 1997 (.71 / wolf) and 2009 (.54 / wolf). I then regressed a line on depr./wolf from 1995 (reintroduction year) to 2010. The line was essentially flat (y = 0.005x + 0.30; Rsquared= 0.029), meaning no detectable increase in depredations per wolf since reintroduction.
Unfortunately, I don’t have time this morning to respond to your last two posts (and Ralph’s). I don’t think the issue is so much depredation/wolf as it is the total number of depredations of all domestic livestock as wolf numbers and range expand. Clearly greater use of habitat where domestic animals are present (not just cows/sheep) as an alternative easier to get meal, or the issues associated with perceived competition (dogs), that require the careful thought and review.
If you want to do a meanginful geographically specific case analysis try the Imnaha Pack (the subject of this thread) and the number of depredations attributed to a known number of wolves (do recall some have already been removed and others are under a kill order that has been temporarily suspended).
It is the intersection of hungry wolves and opportunity for an easier meal that is the important and meaningful analysis.
I submit that which analyses are most “meaningful” likely depends upon the individual. I agree that increases in the total number of depredations are important–mostly because it means that more people are potentially affected. However, I don’t know why you would insist that the most meaningful geographic case study would be the Imnaha pack, unless your intent is to show a worse case scenario?
What I find compelling about these analyses is that wolves were reintroduced into what was considered the “most suitable” habitat, mostly because it contained fewer livestock. Yet, even as wolves have pushed out of what the FWS considers suitable habitat, the number of depredations per wolf has not increased significantly. Moreover, as you have pointed out repeatedly, the number of wolves [according to Mech] is likely to be as much as 20% higher than the minimum estimates as the numbers have climbed; thus, we are more likely to OVERESTIMATE the depredpation/wolf ratio with time, as fewer wolves are counted.
Perhaps this habitat isn’t as “unsuitable” as the FWS thought?
++ ….I don’t know why you would insist that the most meaningful geographic case study would be the Imnaha pack, unless your intent is to show a worse case scenario?
Actually, the reason for suggesting (not really insisting) it was the fact that the Imnaha Pack is the subject of this thread, and they seem to be preferring domestic animals over their natural prey – it is a prime example of the opportunity at the interface or intersection with human activity that is presented.
A more meaningful statistic might be to look at the Unit areas defined by each state as being the home base of each wolf pack, then looking at some kind of “livestock” or domestic opportunity index (this would need some thought) and then doing the statistical analysis you suggest. I bet your depredation/wolf stat gets a whole lot bigger.
But, first, those wolf packs that are isolated from domestic animals or have no documented history of depredation on domestic animals (hunting dog kills if the dogs were in the act of hunting in those areas would also have to be eliminated).
Isn’t that generally the kind of idea that some midwest researchers were looking at for the purpose of “predicting” livestock depredation encounters? Sorry, I don’t recall, but it might have been U of MI or WI?
I believe you’re referring to Adrian Treves (UW) work on “risk mapping”? As I understand it, the idea is to look at geographic factors that promote increased risk of livestock depredation. This sort of analyses would indeed be interesting in the NRMs; however, I was responding to your original assertion that in understanding the trends in wolf depredations it was important to account for the fact that fewer wolves were on the ground in the 80s and 90s than there are today.
I provided an easy mechanism for accounting for this fact. Moreover, we all know that wolves occupy less friendly habitat now than at the time of reintroduction. The result *should* be an increased rate of conflicts per wolf; yet the trend is not significant. Moreover, in Idaho (as I noted in a post the other day) there was actually a slight decrease in sheep all (i.e., all predators) depredations from 1995-2007.
The relevant question is: why don’t we see a significant increase in per capita wolf depredations in the NRMs?
Years ago, I watched a mare with a colt attack my large German shepherd and almost kill her when my dog tried to cross the pasture the horses were in. The mare would have killed my dog if she hadn’t found a hole in the fence to crawl through.
In an encounter between wolves and horses, I would bet on the horses.
How about 1 horse, five wolves and a barbed wire fence, or even two wolves with a 90 degree fence corner?
You are right. Not many horses are killed, but most that are is because they are confined by a fence or some similar barrier.
On the Greenfire Preserve (formerly owned by the Western Watersheds Project) on the East Fork of the Salmon River, for years there has been a band of feral or wild horses. My spouse wrote about them earlier because we were chased by the lead stallion last spring. It was pretty “exciting.”
Wolves have inhabited the East Fork area from shortly after the reintroduction, and they have tested the horse herd on occasion. It appears none of the horses have even been injured, but observers who happened to be on the property have seen a handful of chases, and it is always the horses chasing the wolf or wolves with several occasions the wolves barely escaping.
Three interesting articles regarding predators and livestock. Crabtree has probably been sited here before but it bears mentioning again, given the study.
Begs the question are we humans doing enough to understand predator family dynamics, when we indiscriminately attempt to manage or control their numbers?
I read over and over again, that livestock is not natural prey to most predators and the majority of predators do not go after livestock. What changes?
We’ve had the opportunity here in Montana for years to monitor wolf pack locations (via collars) Would that information have been useful to livestock raisers, to be more vigilant?
Idaho has had a couple of horse incidents where wolves were confirmed to be the cause of death. In both cases, in my professional opinion, wolves had nothing to do with killing the horses. One horse died of illness and you all be the judge of the other case, where Wildlife Services determined the 14 year old Percheron horse died because a wolf held its nostrils shut. I don’t think so……… These horse deaths are what get added into the statistics and that is my biggest concern about statistical tables. They are only as good as the people putting the information in them.
Let me preface this comment with the fact that I fully understand domestic livestock losses are small as against the number of wolves on the landscape. Nonetheless, we can agree they are on the increase as more wolves have opportunities at domestic animals of all kinds for various reason. I often try to add some balance to an otherwise lopsided conversation on this forum.
I recall in 2010 two USFS horses in an enclosure were run by wolves into a cattle guard, causing one, I thought at the time, to be put down. I wondered if this horse had been included in the statistics you cited at the start of this thread. Curiously, after a quick search I learned it was not. It appears only as a footnote to one of the tables from WY, which apparently was not carried over to the 2010 Interagency Summary which you cite in your first post on this thread.
Here is the quote from the FWS WY WYOMING WOLF WEEKLY- June 21 through June 25, 2010 Table 2, which also involves other incidents of probable wolf caused mortality, but the tally is only 1* horse – and this is important given the “small numbers” statistic which JB (Ralph and you) tend to focus on:
*One foal was killed by wolves (recorded as confirmed), 2 horses were chased by wolves and injured when they were run through a fence (recorded as 1 confirmed and 1 probable), and 1 horse was chased by wolves and broke its leg when it was run over a cattle guard (recorded as probable). All 3 injured horses had to be euthanized.
So, only one horse mortality was included in the table entry AND of course the footnote was not carried forward in the Interagency Summary. Why?
By my count that is 4 dead horses (rather than 1), using a more probable than not standard (which is legally sufficient in a civil trial to find accountability for an award of damages).
Is it the fact that the mortality is indirect – wolves not directly attacking and eating the horse? Is it the standard of “probable” instead of “confirmed?”
Then there is the issue of animals being injured, but not killed, maybe requiring costly vet care. I suspect some/many of these go unreported by their owners, or if reported do not make it into any kind of reportable time series statistic. Care to comment on that, as well?
In the end, the numbers of direct and indirect damages caused by wolves and requiring animal owners to assume the risk AND the cost of wolves is (quite?) a bit greater than the tables and even footnotes in government reports.
There is little doubt that as wolves interface more and more with people on the outer edges of the core recovery areas that potential for conflicts with pets and livestock will go up. The public must become more vigilant or losses will inevitably occur resulting in more control actions against wolves. Wolves are here to stay so people need to be proactive in preventing wolf/pet/livestock interactions to occur. MY concern is and always has been that we have professional people working for the agencies that can be nonprejudicial and sort out wolf predation from other causes of death and scavenging.
I think the West needs a few more Carter Niemeyer’s. The objectivity and professionalism with regard to depredation issues is sorely lacking. Just the fact that some of these depredations a called “probable” wolf kills shows the field is stacked in favor of the “poor rancher” and against objectivity.
I agree with Carter- people just can’t leave their “companion animals” unprotected with wolves and other predators in the area and then scream bloody murder…..
Wonder if the story would have appeared if no wolf tracks had been found, only coyote, eagle and raven? Maybe even mountain lion?
Another good observation Allan
The Joseph area is under a public microscope and has been for many months. ODFW have been trying to give people a heads up on wolf activity in the area and of course, dead livestock is the focus of attention in that area and will be scrutinized more closely than any other area in Oregon.
Those Oregon Wolves are worth far more alive than dead.
When I see wolves, I run for my camera instead of my rifle and it is about to pay off big time.
The Bradford Exchange is selling some of my Yellowstone Wolf Photos as a set of five collector plates, which are being marketed world wide. I will be getting commission checks for 3% of world wide sales. (Just banked my first $1500) A good wolf photo can be worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Take a look: http://www.thewildphotographer.com
Only idiots kill wolves.
Original topic/question was
“Is this story worth a story in Oregon’s largest paper?”
No…… domestic violence, within our own species, seems to be a much bigger issue/problem in Oregon, unless of course you live among nature’s predators, own livestock and want everyone else to pay for your lack of attention to that livestock/product/way of life.
When wolves first came on the scene in Montana, a wolf depredation was newsworthy because it was novel for the region. On a grander scale the stories are politically driven but novel for Oregonians. Every community, county and state must go through their growing pains with wolves on the landscape. Too bad readers don’t get curious and look up the major causes of livestock loss in the United States to see that confirmed wolf depredations are minuscule by comparison. Take rustling for one example.
At this point one of the issues is the court injunction halting ODFW from following the Oregon Wolf Management Plan. This has just created more issues and angst with the ranchers. Of course I am still very concerned about the methods used to determine the cause of death of livestock depredation and would like to see in depth summary’s with detailed findings including pictures. On the positive side wolves continue to populate Oregon. I look to Carter to flush out the truth on these issues and his posts do just that. Carter, you are a great resource and I hope you continue to post comments and write books on this issue, as it helps me understand and keep things in perspective.
The Oregonian’s coverage of this closely parallels the tendency on the part of print media outlets here in the Northest to devote scads of dollars to keep reporters and photographers on the road all day long in order to chase ambulances, cop cars, fire engines and paramedic vans in search of the vaunted “breaking news” story. This isn’t about serving a journalistic need as much as it is about trying to be “first” with a story.
Until a year ago, the Taylor Research Station (U of Idaho)in the middle of the Frank Church along Big Creek, had a number of mules and horses running loose on the hills around the station. There were and are plenty of wolves in this country, which I know from personal experience.
I wondered about the danger to the mules and horses and asked the station manager, Jim Akenson, if he worried about it. He said he didn’t, as the mules would go after any wolves they encountered. Now, I realize these animals were free-ranging and couldn’t be run into a fence or cornered. Plus, there were five or six of them, not one.
When Akenson recently left his station job after 7003 days in Big Creek, he took his animals with him.
Last October, I spent eleven days at Cabin Creek, just upstream from Taylor, doing work for the Payette NF. The local outfitter, Mile-Hi, let their stock run loose every night while wolves were around (we’d hear them howling close by). I’m also not aware of any other wilderness outfitters that are overly concerned for their stock either.
The killing of a mule or horse by wild wolves IS an unusual occurrence. The mule in Oregon could have easily had an underlying health issue that made it vulnerable to attack. From my understanding, only the legs remained with little evidence of predation. By definition, the investigators had to put it in the probable category but by description it sounds like a possible/unknown. And, we will never know.
Are you saying that wolves never go after a healthy animal?
Why is it rare that they go after horses or mules? Are they more difficult to hunt successfully than a moose or an elk?
Because horses and mules have the capability of kicking in a wolves skull. Elk are less adept at this.
Wolves are opportunistic hunters. They will test any natural prey species, so if weakness is displayed in any way, that animal is more likely to be preyed upon. More often than not the wolf goes without the meal.
If wolves are opportunistic and they look for weaknesses, why don’t they go after people or kids more often? I am not trying to stir up trouble, please treat this question at face value.
Not their natural prey. Wolves have evolved along with the ungulates they prey upon. Most living organisms occupy an environmental niche of some sort. Wolves are a bit of a generalist, as can be confirmed by their once widespread range. However, the most important food source for wolves are ungulates, that for the most part, are larger than wolves: deer; elk; moose; musk ox; caribou; bison… and have evolved a pack structure, speed, and dental hardware to exploit that niche.
So there really really isn’t anything to worry about? I have sen stories and other postings about wolves and coyotes and attacks on the rise and this is just them testing out the prey.
They are opportunistic regarding those animals they regard as prey.
They don’t think of people as prey, and they usually don’t think of cattle as prey either, though they can certainly come to see them that way when they run across cow carcasses left lying about or encounter calves, which naturally and stupidly (they are cattle after all) run, telling the wolves they are possible prey.
Wolves and coyotes are social carnivores. In part, their hunting behavior (including selection of prey items) is learned through social interactions with the pack. Some behavioral ecologists have suggested that these animals form a “search image” for potential prey items. Humans generally aren’t part of this search image, because they haven’t learned to think of us as prey. Moreover, since any animal that dares to inquire concerning our “tastiness” is invariably killed, wolves are far more likely to learn to avoid us (treat us as a potential predator, rather than prey).
We have discussed this plenty of times, but it is always necessary to reinforce that wolves are wild animals, large carnivores to boot, and must be repectfully treated as such. That having been said, why are folks who appreciate wolves, study wolves, timber cruisers, the 10 of thousands of folks each year who venture into the BWCA in Minnesota (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) or those in the Rockies never threatened, let alone attacked?
It’s not to say it can’t happen, in particular with food habituated animals, or wolves protecting a den site (yet folks have crawled into wolf dens with the adults present), it just does not happen.
++…or encounter calves, which naturally and stupidly (they are cattle after all) run, telling the wolves they are possible prey…++
Seems to me the natural instinct of any animal with eyes on either side of its head (a common characteristic defining prey animals) would be to run in the presence of several smaller and maybe more nimble and faster animals with eyes facing forward. Guess that would include the wild ungulates, cattle, sheep, equines (horse, burro, mule), goats and llamas. If there is a fence in the way, maybe barbed wire or a dead end corner (and even the occasional cattle guard)that can be the game changer to the disadvantage of the pursued, even if not an intended prey. If the animal is weakened, down and available the opportunistic characteristics take over. So, for example, the Oregon mule might have made it anyway, even if as Carter suggests it may not have been completely healthy at the time it was (confirmed/probably) attacked.
I am also troubled by the 4 miniature horses that were attacked and killed, even though they apparently aren’t on the usual prey list. They sure as hell got tested and died.
Mech has a paper (or perhaps it was in his book) that discusses what makes moose vulnerable to predation. My recollection is that animals that run, were far more likely to fall victim to predation. He later observed the same behavior in musk ox; running–as opposed to herding together and holding your ground–turned out to be a bad strategy.
Anyone (human) runner who lives in a rural area learns the same lesson with dogs: hold your ground and the dog eventually backs off, run and you’re likely to get bit. As an aside, my experience with loose and stray dogs while running and biking is of the reasons I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who let their dogs roam in wolf country. 😉
Horses and mules also have the ability to bite predators (ever seen two band stallions fighting?)
A friend of mine has a mule that her cow dogs use to like to harass until he grabbed one of the dogs by the neck one day and almost killed it. Game over…… Mules don’t like canines.
“Now, I realize these animals were free-ranging and couldn’t be run into a fence or cornered. Plus, there were five or six of them, not one”
From what I could gather from the video IDhiker, the mule in Oregon was also pretty much free ranging and in the company of atleast a dozen or more horses and mules, so I’m thinking (as Cater thought) there may of been some underlying heath problems.
The real question is, how often did the outfitter bother to go out and check on his “property” left to fend for themselves, knowing wolves were in the area?
Reinforcing your point about running triggering predator response, recall a couple of years back there was a young wolf chasing bicyclists and motorcyclists near Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone NP. It was quickly and lethally removed. I know of a mountain biker who was attacked while on his bike by a cougar.
Also, wolves are not dumb. They must hunt with their mouths, so the head is always in harms way. Hanging onto the back leg of a moose or elk as they try and kick free is frought with difficulty as the piston like motion of the leg shakes the living heck out of the wolf.
“I am also troubled by the 4 miniature horses that were attacked and killed, even though they apparently aren’t on the usual prey list. They sure as hell got tested and died”
WM- miniature horses are about the size of a month old calf (or my golden retriever mix dog – 70 lbs.) I can’t see where the “usual prey list” comes into play here if they’d been left in an unprotected area, knowing wolves, lions (or even coyotes) might be in the area, looking for an easy meal.
I don’t know what the facts are regarding that depredation loss. Maybe the folks screwed up, maybe not, but in fourteen years it appeared they had no problems with coyotes or lions. What one needs to keep a small horses in a pasture may not be what is necessary to keep wolves out. That would require them to make more capital outlay and labor at their expense to accomodate the new predator. Don’t even know if they had forewarning. Afterall wolves can travel some distance in a few days, being 20 – 30 or more miles away one week and then in somebody’s backyard the next.
It appears the Superior Pack which was responsible for the miniature horse loss had also been chewing on irrigation hoses (guess there is no compenation program for that and not sure what one does to prevent the damage) and hanging out at a mink farm (probably lots of good smells and snacks there). They had already killed cattle, a colt and a couple of dogs before this event, as well.
What? Even if the miniature horses are small they are somebody’s property (expensive ones it appear). I guess somebody’s small dog doesn’t count in your world if it gets eaten by wolves.
Opportunists indeed, and doesn’t look like any of that stuff is on the normal menu list unless they try it and like it (bet the hose wasn’t). Wolves are highly adaptive generalists. My favorite has always been the one year in MN when their wolves killed something like domestic 1,600 turkeys. And, do recall the incident near Dillon, MT a couple years ago, with the surplus killing of 120 sheep in one incident, if I recall correctly. Doesn’t even have to be on the menu to die, and that is why problem wolves need to be dealt with swiftly, along with telling ranchers to clean up their acts.
Curious WM, where are you commenting from?
I currently live in the Seattle area, but have lived, gone to graduate school, worked, hiked and hunted in the (Northern) Rockies for over 40 years.
I seem to remember that in the Dillon case, that wolves had killed a couple of these sheep the previous night. But,the sheep owners took no action to prevent what followed.
“…along with telling ranchers to clean up their acts.”
This is important. While working yesterday, I went with another deputy on a “cruelty to animals call.” The horses were OK, but there were two that had recently been shot (euthanized). The rancher simply dragged them in the back of her forty acres and left them there, even though there are plenty of wolves around here. This kind of behavior just invites wolves to show up on her property. Then she’ll loudly complain, and likely her neighbors, never realizing it was her stupid action that caused the problem in the first place.
not to mention coytes,and other scavengers wanting a meal.
At a friend’s a couple of weeks ago (who has a few head of cattle) and one of her cows died that morning, complications from lameness. When I noticed the hired man coming out of the pasture on a tractor I asked her if he had buried or covered up the cow. She said no, he took it to the other side of the pasture.
I asked if it had ever occurred to her that she might not be helping the situation, leaving this dead cow where it could certainly attract wolves in? (and this area has certainly had its share of wolf depredations) She repied “well its wintertime and the wild creatures have to eat too”
Ranchers do need to clean up their acts – If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
I just heard from some friends that their next door neighbor euthanized one of their horses after learning it had a non-reversible twisted bowel (happens sometimes when they roll over). The horse was put down by the vet. The owner covered it with a blanket for the night as sign of respect and closure, while family and friends said their goodbyes. Next day a hole was dug with the backhoe after breaking through the frozen snow covered ground, and the horse placed and covered. Took about an hour, as I was told. Not so tough if one has the moral commitment and equipment to do the right thing.
I have thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to put a notice flyer in the annual property tax notice that encourages landowners to bury their dead animals immediately, especially in wolf country.
It would also be useful to encourage wolf depredation compensation programs to empower investigators to look for attractive nuisances like dead animal carcasses AND SPECIFICALLY DISALLOW claims in which the contributory negligence behavior of the claimant was the cause of the depredation. The rules could easily be spelled out ahead of time.
FYI – IDhiker
Interesting to read over the comments from 3 years ago 🙂
I notice that at that time I wrote in bold print, “This is the kind of depredation where the wolves need to be shot-
This is unusual. Furthermore it took place on private land. Assuming there are no important facts left out of the story, these wolves should all be shot.”
It turns out some wolves were shot. We never learned if it was the right ones. I haven’t changed my view of the need to kill the wolves, but I recall, and I think you can find my statement several times that there never was much information released to the public why all these sheep were completely unguarded and why it took so long to discover the kill. The sheep appear not to have been watched really at all.
These large kills are rare, as the lack of similar events since show, but they have replayed this one like a “golden oldie,” giving the impression that this sort of thing is a monthly occurrence.
One of the conditions for conducting a control action on “problem” wolves in the NRM recovery area was to recognize when boneyards and animal pits were attractants and ask the ranchers to dispose of them. Few field agents with Wildlife Services ever had the courage to say anything. There is absolutely no doubt that dead livestock carcasses cause predators to hang around a ranch because it is a food source. I won’t go so far as to say carcass piles cause predators to kill livestock but if wolves or bears have a tendency for that behavior, habituating them will up the odds that they may kill livestock in that neighborhood. Cleaning up carcasses will make it less appealing for scavengers that will eventually move on to find their next meal.
Carter – are there any biologists currently doing studies as to why some wolves/packs engage in livestock depredation and others, choose to ignore the obvious temptation?
With such “robust” wolf populations in Montana & Idaho, you would think livestock depredations would be thru the roof, but thats just not the case in many, if not most, of the areas where wolves reside.
As for the 120 sheep killed near Dillon, that was an accident waiting to happen. Pasturing several hundred sheep in known occupied wolf range and not having a herder with them 24 hours a day is a recipe for disaster. I’m not pointing a finger at anyone but wolves are here to stay and if people continue to leave livestock and pets unattended, they will be killed. We are at a point where we know that wolves, mountain lions, black and grizzly bears are on the landscape, so ignoring them and conducting business as usual will result in some tragic losses of livestock. This isn’t a warning but a promise. Whether running hounds or grazing livestock, with wolves on the landscape, the risk goes up. People are going to have to take more precautions.
“I have thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to put a notice flyer in the annual property tax notice that encourages landowners to bury their dead animals immediately, especially in wolf country.
compensation programs to empower investigators to look for attractive nuisances like dead animal carcasses AND SPECIFICALLY DISALLOW claims in which the contributory negligence behavior of the claimant was the cause of the depredation”
I think those are great ideas WM but as Carter mentioned “Few field agents with Wildlife Services ever had the courage to say anything”
Ranchers never wanted wolves back on the landscape despite the growing evidence that their presence has been a benefit to ecosystems that still have areas that still resemble wilderness areas.
Private land, private land, private land echoed over and over again where livestock depredations occur as though by annoucing it, writing about it or making videos (as in the Wallowa video) wolves or any other predator, should be able to automatically comprehend the difference.
Boils down to responsibility. Have the land and the ability to raise a thousand head of cattle or sheep for market? Start doing the math – because predators are not, and have never been, the major cause of livestock losses but they are certainly gonna clean up the mess left behind and will continue to get into trouble and die… as a result of sloppy, negligent husbandry practices.
I’m not aware of any research studies to determine a wolf packs tendency to prey on livestock. The opportunities are out there to do that type of study. I would be wary of who designs the study because it seems that many people have an agenda or outcome they expect or hope for. The foundation of any depredation study would be careful documentation of the cause of death of all livestock, which seems to be one of the fundamental problems that agencies are still struggling with 25 years after wolf recovery began in the NRM.