A collaboration: Washington’s non-lethal wolf conflict management tools
Co-existence between wolves and humans is something we are committed to at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). In working toward this goal, we partner with livestock producers to identify and implement non-lethal conflict prevention measures that discourage wolves from attacking domestic animals.
There are a number of these measures, or tools. Their use is determined on a case-by-case basis. Every livestock operation is unique, so when it comes to what will work best when wolves come too close to domestic animals depends on several factors, including the species of livestock, number of animals, terrain, landscape conditions, and time of year. No single measure will consistently be successful, so multiple non-lethal deterrents are often in an effort to maximize effectiveness.
Some of the non-lethal options we use and work with livestock producers to use include:
Human presence- The regular presence of humans — ranch employees, family members or others — can deter wolves from frequenting an area. This has limited capabilities and is generally restricted to small areas where livestock can be observed all at one time.
Range riding — Range riding differs from general human presence in that a range rider patrols, on horseback or ATV, large open grazing allotments to monitor herds. These allotments are sometimes in remote areas where cows are often dispersed over a large area.
Monitoring livestock — By watching for changes in livestock behavior, condition, and reproductive status, ranchers can decrease potential damage to their animals by wolves. Producers are encouraged to remove sick or injured livestock (which can be perceived as an easy target to a wolf) from pastures and make sure livestock aren’t congregating in areas frequented by wolves if possible, such as rendezvous areas where young wolves go when they are old enough to leave the den but not mature enough to hunt with the pack.
Fladry- Red flags on a rope are known as fladry. When strung around a pasture fence, the flags move in the wind. Wolves don’t like the movement and can be discouraged from entering an area surrounded with fladry.
Protecting calving/lambing areas — Establishing calving or lambing areas away from wolf areas or in pastures near ranch houses allows for easier, more frequent livestock checks and intervention. Producers also often use protective fencing, fladry, or barns and sheds for birthing areas to further protect newborns.
Avoiding den and rendezvous sites — Before grazing season, WDFW conflict specialists work with livestock producers to develop a plan to avoid active wolf den or rendezvous sites. On WDFW lands, management plans are developed that incorporate separation of livestock and wolves, such as providing grazing options on alternate WDFW properties if wolves are known to be present on the original grazing allotment.
Propane cannons, fox lights and radio activated guard boxes — Loud or bright deterrents that scare wolves off grazing properties can be very effective in preventing livestock depredations. This can include installing light and noise devices like propane cannons that make a loud noise, fox lights (computerized flashing lights that gives the impression of someone patrolling during hours of darkness), and radio activated-guard boxes (“RAG boxes”) that activate strobe lights and a loud speaker playing music or other noise when it detects the signal from the collar of a radio collared wolf.
Guardian and herding dogs — Some livestock producers use trained, specific breeds of dogs to protect livestock, along with regular human presence. The most effective breeds include Akbash, Kangal, Great Pyrenees, and Komondor.
Strategic carcass sanitation — It is not uncommon for livestock to sometimes die on grazing allotments from causes unrelated to wolves or other carnivores (e.g., poison plants, lightning strikes). Disposing of carcasses appropriately prevents attracting wolves (or other predators) to grazing areas and reduces the potential for wolf-livestock interactions.
Permanent and portable fencing — Many producers, landowners, and land managers use predator-resistant or electric fencing on pastures to deter wolves. They can also use these types of fencing to create night pens for open grazing livestock. WDFW and other groups in Washington have fence materials available to be loaned to livestock producers.
Delayed calf turn-out — In forested pastures, producers can delay turning their calves out until they reach 200 pounds — large enough for some wolves to reconsider viewing a calf as prey. This delay can also give more time for wild young to be available, such as deer fawns and moose and elk calves. Producers can also keep cow and calf pairs together, so that the mature, larger cows can help protect their young.
In addition to the methods and tools above, WDFW staff are also interested in trying other non-lethal deterrents new to Washington. Potential ideas include:
· Reflective collars, bells, and VHF ear tags for cattle (to make locating cows easier),
· VHF notification beacons used to alert when animals (cattle or carnivores) leave or enter a designated area (ideal for large grazing settings to confine cattle to or exclude from desired areas),
· Making large stockpiles of deterrents (fladry, fox lights, flood lights, etc.) available for community use,
· Cattle ear tags that collect information on cattle biometrics such as stress, and whether cattle are maintaining distance from wolf activity centers on WDFW lands.
Fortunately, coexistence is more common than depredation when it comes to wolves and livestock. In fact, 85 percent of Washington’s known wolf packs were not involved in any documented livestock depredations in 2019, and numbers from past years are pretty similar.
Although media coverage often focuses on conflict among wolves, livestock, and people, successful coexistence is the real story that plays out daily in most places where wolves live in our state.