Improving technology to help wolves and livestock
Most, if not all, wolf packs in Washington share the landscape with livestock. Wolves use the same dense, forested areas and open meadows (on both private and public land) where livestock producers graze their domestic animals. As wolves have naturally returned to Washington and grown in number, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and conservation organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife have focused on promoting the proactive use of non-lethal deterrents to reduce livestock losses to this native wild carnivore.
There are many tools, sometimes called deterrence measures, used to reduce livestock losses to wild carnivores like wolves. One innovative tool is called a Radio-Activated Guard box, or RAG box for short. To scare carnivores away from small and medium-sized livestock pastures, RAG boxes play loud sounds and flash bright lights when a radio-collared animal approaches them. These tools can work on wolves, who tend to be neophobic, meaning they are frightened by sights and objects that are new to them.
RAG boxes were originally conceived by a Montana rancher and designed by USDA Wildlife Services in the late 1990s and have been used across the west for more than 20 years. The RAG box design had never been standardized, however, and devices were hard to find since no one produced them consistently. RAG boxes were also prone to malfunction and often unwieldy and difficult to set up in the field.
In 2020, a partnership was born to address the critical need for updated and reliable RAG boxes nationwide. Defenders of Wildlife teamed up with WDFW, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife to update this tool and encourage consistent production of these devices. Engineers from Epimedia, Inc. designed the RAG Box 2.0 and created more reliable, secure and innovative device with new features, including:
- Customizable settings- built-in wifi allows these devices to be programed by phone or laptop in the field.
- Increased security- password-protected access to sensitive radio-collar frequencies and data logs keeps people from hacking into sensitive data such as the location of collared wolves.
- Data collection option- data logs with radio-collar ID and date and timestamps of each trigger event can be downloaded.
- Randomized alarm duration- option for the alarm to sound for different amounts of time each time the device triggers to reduce carnivore habituation to the device.
- Novel notification system- one-way radio system which alerts humans when a radio-collared carnivore triggers the device.
Wildlife agency staff and livestock producers in Washington and Oregon field tested the new generation RAG box in the spring and summer of 2021. Testers found the updated device was easier to use than previous versions and they were positively received. In the video below, WDFW wildlife conflict specialist Todd Jacobsen explains the steps involved in setting up and using the new RAG box.
WDFW and Defenders of Wildlife have purchased multiple RAG box 2.0 units for the 2023 grazing season. Both groups are hopeful that this reimagined tool provides a reliable and effective option to mitigating conflicts between people and wolves, helping achieve the goal of reducing losses of livestock and wolves alike, and allowing for successful coexistence across Washington.