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Wolves: Non-lethal Control
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Ed Jahn (Producer): Killing predators -- in management speak it's called lethal control. Whether by aerial gunning, trapping, or poisoning, killing predators is a part of life in the rural west. But the legacy, and perceived brutality, of lethal control raises the ire of environmentalists.
Brooks Fahy (Executive Director, Predator Defense): What really angers me about the management of predators is this whole myth that they need to be managed, that meaning we need to kill them to control their populations.
Ed Jahn: Environmentalists, and a more wildlife friendly urban population, are a growing influence on predator management. As a result, ranchers are being asked to consider alternatives to lethal control. Acceptance -- depends on the rancher, and on which predator they are asked to live among.
Ann Snyder (White Diamond Ranch, Oregon): I'm Anne Snyder, and I raise sheep and goats on a small ranch. I have about 150 head now, and our biggest concern is probably predators. We have coyotes, we have bobcats, we have cougars, and eventually we may have wolves, I don't know. We were losing about one lamb a day for a while, until I got a burro, and as soon as I got a burro, we lost about one lamb a month.
Ed Jahn: According to the US Department of Agriculture, nearly ninety percent of sheep producers use some form of non-lethal control. Usually, it's a guard animal.
Ann Snyder: That has certainly helped with the small predators. I don't know if it will help with the cougars or wolves or not.
Ed Jahn: Ann still has the legal option of lethal control for most predators.
Ann Snyder: If I should find a cougar within this compound, or within our pastures munching sheep, I would have no problem shooting it.
Ed Jahn: But now Oregon ranchers are facing the return of wolves -- an historically abundant predator. Under the present wolf recovery program, wolves have the protection of the Endangered Species Act. They cannot be killed by ranchers even as a last resort -- at least, not legally.
Sharon Beck (Oregon Cattleman's Association): If we let 'em get a big toehold here and they reproduce like they can . . . that's going to be a problem. So anything we can do to delay that problem, you know, people are gonna do.
Ed Jahn: So you're talking about breaking the law . . .
Sharon Beck: Uh, actually I look at it as defending our rights, rather than breaking the law.
Ed Jahn: Not being able to kill a wolf is a sticking point for many ranchers. And unlike sheep producers, fewer than 40 percent of cattle ranchers in the west use non-lethal tools. That frustrates environmentalists.
Laura Jones (Defenders of Wildlife): If you're just constantly taking care of the problem with a rifle it's gonna be perpetual . . . and we just think there are other solutions that could be tried and should be tried, that might be as effective as shooting a wolf. Might not, but we're willing to give it a try.
Ed Jahn: Defenders of Wildlife, a national environmental group, is working with Wildlife Services, the agency traditionally in charge of killing predators. Together they are teaching ranchers how to use new, non-lethal techniques.
Laura Jones: One's called fladry, which is basically the hanging of flags . . . and you put it along a fenceline and for some reason it creates a psychological barrier wolves won't go through. . . We've helped install radio activated guard boxes, which is, uh, a scare device that was devised by a rancher . . .
Ed Jahn: These noisy, somewhat obnoxious devices are triggered when a radio collared wolf approaches a fence line, but they only work with collared wolves. More simply, a rancher can shoot noise-making but harmless crackershot.
Laura Jones: People call it wildlife on a leash, but I think management is a realistic part of wolf recovery right now. And we look forward to the day when we can treat them as a hands-off animal and not having to collar every wolf or monitor them, but unfortunately, in this day and age it really is where we're at.
Ed Jahn: Carter Neimeyer works with Defenders on the non-lethal program.
Carter Neimeyer (USFWS, Wolf Recovery Coordinator): It's not the silver bullet. I don't think we have any non-lethal methods right now that are gonna cure all our problems, but I think we owe it to wolf management to keep an open mind and look at all these other solutions too.
Anne Snyder: I'm still willing to take other measures, of electrifying more of my fence, or putting up fladry or something like that. I'm not sure I want to go as far as the strobe lights because I think that would create a lot of stress, both on myself and on my animals.
Ed Jahn: Sharon beck is humored by it all.
Sharon Beck: Oh, you know, let 'em try it, it gives people something to do, as long as we don't have to pay for it.
Ed Jahn: Predator Defense, another environmental group, doesn't think hi-tech alternatives will do much to change age-old ranch traditions.
Brooks Fahy: A lot of this is gimmickry. People are going to continue to poison wolves and illegally shoot wolves, and where we should be putting our money within these communities is enforcement. You shoot a wolf, you go to jail.
Ed Jahn: To some ranchers this is the crux of the conflict -- they are being asked to trust environmental groups, and the government, both of whom ranchers believe conspired against them by putting more predators on the landscape.
Sharon Beck: We know better. We know it's not an ecological issue, it's a political issue, and uh, we just have to fight it any way we can.
Ed Jahn: But in a changing west, killing predators, once the unquestioned right of ranchers, may no longer be as acceptable as it once was.
Ann Snyder: No matter what, we're outnumbered by the people in the urban areas who want to come out and recreate and see wolves, and see cougars and things like that and know that they're out there. Whether it's a good thing or a bad thing it's going to come . . . and I'm just trying things that have worked for me.
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