Depredation efforts require revision

A deer in the headlights may cause a driver’s life to flash before their eyes, but when a wolf pack kills 176 sheep in a single night, a whole new terror comes to life.

Current wolf depredation efforts do not seem as effective as most farmers, and sheep, would prefer.

The Siddoway Sheep Company suffered the loss of 119 lambs and 57 ewes, near Victor, Idaho, on Aug. 17, when wolves from the Pine Creek wolf pack attacked the herd, according to Tri-State Livestock News. At least 10 of the sheep were killed from bites, while the rest died from asphyxiation in a massive pileup attempting to evade the predators.

The reports said that only the hindquarters from one lamb were eaten. Many conservation groups are steadfast defenders of wolves, saying that packs only kill what they need to survive.

Welcome to Idaho’s wolf wars, where a single meal can claim the lives of 176 livestock animals.

Discounting the sheep killed in the pileup, which could be construed as a freak accident, the wolves from the Pine Creek pack racked up a total of 10 kills. No matter how you look at it, overkill is overkill.

This incident may be one-of-a-kind, but wolf kills are hardly an uncommon occurrence for livestock farmers, including Siddoway Sheep Company. J.C. Siddoway, owner of the company, has faced wolf related problems on six of eight summer allotments, according to the Tri-State Livestock News article.

Throughout the summer, his company has seen wolf kills ranging from four to 25 head per night in locations separated by more than 100 miles. In the week prior to this attack, Siddoway lost two ewes, two lambs and a guard dog to wolves.

At the end of 2012, Idaho’s wolf population was estimated at 683 wolves, according to the 2012 Idaho Wolf Monitoring Progress Report from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Wildlife Services classified 73 cattle, 312 sheep and two dogs as confirmed wolf kills last year. In addition, 19 cattle and 25 sheep were thought to be probable wolf kills.

Idaho’s wolf population has likely seen some decline this year since the passing of Senate Bill 1305, which allows livestock owners to use lethal force while defending their herds from wolf molestation. The law also allows farmers to acquire permits to hunt and or trap wolves for up to 60 days after the incident, according to the bill.

Regardless, wolves pose great physical and fiscal threats to livestock owners.

Compensation for wolf related livestock losses is the responsibility of the Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, which is currently using federal funds from Fish and Wildlife Services. The outlook for anyone suffering losses in 2013 is poor, considering the office just received funding for damages that took place in 2012.

For those who are not agriculturally inclined, compare this to a person totaling your car and fleeing the scene of the crime. The police inform you of the obvious; your car is wrecked. Then to make matters worse, your insurance company tells you that any compensation will not be provided for at least a year.

Any livestock related losses are reimbursed at market value and with most cattle producers losing $100 per head; life is tough even with reimbursement.

Idaho has relatively aggressive depredation efforts compared to most states, but obviously there is room for improvement. Better monitoring of wolf herds, including trapping and collaring to track pack movement, is sorely needed.

This is not a call to arms, to gun down every wolf in sight. Rather, it is a plea for the federal and state governments to reconsider the effectiveness of current wolf depredation efforts.

Oregon currently has a wolf population of 46, according to Oregon Fish and Wildlife. Oregon is a wolf-safe zone, meaning it is illegal to use lethal force against a wolf under any circumstance. In a state like Oregon giving farmers the permits to use lethal force, only when defending their livestock or person, might be a feasible depredation plan.

But in Idaho, with a population likely still over 600, the government needs to take responsibility for the problem they have created through their stoking of wolf populations to their current high.

Taking responsibility means providing the funding for farmers to be reimbursed for their losses in a timely manner. The government’s efforts need to extend to providing greater assistance to farmers in the hunting of aggressive wolf packs.

Wolves present a serious problem to farmers and livestock owners; they are as majestic as they are murderous.