Looking back. Was 2009 “massacre” of sheep really just another frightened sheep wreck?

We now know the true story of the recently deceased 176 sheep near Fogg Hill in Eastern Idaho — frightened into stampede, but not killed by wolves.  We have to ask ourselves, have past wolf “massacre of sheep” stories been similarly misreported?

Back in 2009 near Dillon, Montana, there was much outrage, but few facts ever established when 120 “purebred Rambouillet bucks” all turned up dead on a private pasture. They were  thought  to have been killed by the Centennial wolf pack which previously had no record of livestock depredations, although there had been previous depredations by other wolves in the area.

The exact location of the pasture was not given, nor its topography. We know that topography is critical when sheep panic.  We do know the sheep were left alone in the Blacktail Mountains, though they were reported to have been checked on every couple days. All the information the public received came from an article by Nick Gevock in the Montana Standard and another by Eve Byron in the Helena Independent Record.

When the “federal trapper” arrived to investigate, he found the “total included 82 confirmed kills and 40 carcasses that were classified as probable kills, including some that had been eaten by bears.”  Given what we have learned about Wildlife Services in the years since, there is an open question how accurate this determination was.

The wolves indeed might have gone into a frenzy and killed and killed for some reason. We even editorialized that that wolf pack had to be terminated, and a bunch of wolves were killed.

On the other hand, additional facts were impossible to come by. We were especially interested in the exact location. Now hard experience tells us to be open-minded about what really happened.  Other sporadic large kills of sheep ought to be reconsidered as well.









  1. Ken Cole Avatar

    Don’t forget about the sheep wreck a couple of years ago. We wrote http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2012/05/08/conservation-groups-and-livestock-interests-work-to-create-a-new-25-million-rancher-slush-fund/ :

    One recent example of reimbursement for unverified losses which illustrates just how thin the evidence has to be, involves reimbursement for sheep that trampled each other to death.  The investigator at the scene was unable to determine whether wolves were even involved in the incident and the sheepherder never saw what caused the guard dogs to start barking and growling which caused the sheep to pile up and trample each other to death.  The tracks of a lone wolf were found in the area but it was never determined whether the wolf was there at the time of the incident or came across the dead sheep later.  Nonetheless, the sheep operator was reimbursed $6,226.90 for the loss of 18 sheep and 58 lambs despite the complete lack of evidence that wolves were involved.

  2. SAP Avatar

    Ralph – location of the 2009 mass sheep death is stated in the article as “Rock Creek.” It also refers to the Blacktail Mountains — but that could be confusion because the main watershed there is Blacktail Creek, and the Blacktail Wildlife Management Area (MT FWP game range) is right there as well.

    I don’t find a “Rock Creek” in the Blacktail Mountains proper, but there is a Rock Creek that comes out of the Snowcrest foothills, through the game range, and into Blacktail Creek. Based on where there is private land on that Rock Creek, you can see where the incident likely occurred:
    391374.54 m E
    4980129.75 m N

    It’s fairly flat, kind of arid country with the exception of the creek bottom itself.

    Regardless of topography, stampeding sheep will also pile up against fences as they try to escape.

  3. CodyCoyote Avatar

    I’m out on the end of the plank when I say this, due to my memory being vague, but wasn’t that sheep kill near Dillon the SECOND major loss of sheep in the same general place for the same purported reason (wanton depredation) reported the same owners , but with the same inattention to their allegedly valuable domestic stock ?

    Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice…

    We’ve reported several accounts here at TWN over the years of the huge discrepancy between actual verified livestock kills from wolves, and depredations “phoned in” to local agents purported to be from wolves. A difference in some cases of 2500 percent ( 25 X ) when different agriculture and/or wildlife reporting agencies are doing the compiling of the same incidents.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Cody Coyote I think there was a another big Dillon area sheep loss in 2008 too. SAP, I was confused about the Blacktail Mountains and Rock Creek as well.

      Confusion seems endemic in these stories. Regarding the Palisades very recent sheep deaths, the reports had the location in SE, not extreme Eastern Idaho; and they could not seem to separate the Siddoway Sheep Company’s headquarters in Terreton, ID from the site of the dead sheep.

    2. SAP Avatar

      Cody – your memory is accurate: this was a two-phase wreck. A different group of wolves hit the same bunch of buck sheep earlier in the season, on private land.

      From the 24 July 2009 Montana FWP wolf weekly:

      “On 7/22, WS confirmed 6 dead buck sheep as killed by wolves on private land in the Rock creek area on the East Fork of the Blacktail. Additional dead sheep were investigated and confirmed as wolf depredation by the end of the week. Based on monitoring information and field reports, 3 uncollared wolves from an unknown pack were in the immediate area of the sheep on repeated occasions. FWP had requested WS to collar and release a wolf to determine whether it was a new pack or the wolves were part of a different / known pack. Subsequent losses occurred on the same private land and totaled
      about 20-25 bucks.
      [emphasis added]. Because of repeated losses, FWP made a new decision and requested removal of the 3 wolves which appear to be unaffiliated with other known packs. Control work is ongoing.”

  4. Lisa Daniel Avatar
    Lisa Daniel

    The number of wolves verses livestock is a needle in a haystack! If the ranchers would make more of an effort to protect their livestock ie: Sheep protecting dogs etc. There would be no losses. they love to blame the wolves for their laziness to do what they have done in Europe for centuries!!!


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.

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Ralph Maughan