In the wake of more wolf attacks on livestock in the Ninemile Valley, wildlife management experts have authorized another round of “lethal control” to neutralize the wolf or wolves responsible, if they can be identified, says Ed Bangs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf recovery coordinator. At the same time, however, Bangs acknowledges the futility of it all: “We can’t just have vulnerable animals standing out there, waiting to be killed, and then killing the predators.”
On Aug. 1, Geri Ball, a Ninemile resident, lost another llama. It was the third wolf attack on her llamas this year, and the second one killed. As a result, Defenders of Wildlife, a wildlife conservation group, has compensated Ball for the value of her llamas, and Ball has agreed to let Defenders set up a fencing system to protect her animals. An unnamed Missoula resident has also offered to share the cost with Defenders in an effort to find other ways of avoiding future problems with Ball’s llamas.
“Llamas, especially show llamas, can be a little problematic,” says Suzanne Laverty, of Defenders in Boise. “Some people consider them pets, or ‘hobby animals,’ which we don’t reimburse for. It’s hard to put a monetary value on a pet’s life, and we don’t have that kind of money. We compensate market prices for livestock-generated income. But when your prize llama is winning money at shows, or as a stud, that can be considered livestock-generated income. Our compensation cap is $2,000. In cases of greater value, the owner should have livestock insurance.”
Experts acknowledge, however, that proactive conflict prevention is preferable to compensating for dead livestock. Wolf Guardians, a sub-unit of Defenders of Wildlife, consists of volunteers who travel around wolf country, working with locals to devise non-lethal solutions to wolf/human conflicts.
At the Ball ranchette, volunteer coordinator Laurie Jones and volunteer Patty McLaughlin are hanging strings of fladry around a fenced perimeter. Fladry looks like a string of Himalayan prayer flags, little strips of fabric hung from a string, and have been used by wolf-hunters in Europe for ages. For some reason, canines don’t want to penetrate such a visual barrier. Fladry may not be a long-term solution, but it seems to work for a while. “They might figure it out,” says Jones. “Then we’ll just have to try something else.”
As for other non-lethal options for controlling the wolves, Jones remains placid but resolved.
“Whatever it takes,” she says. “Whatever we can do to be pro-active and collaborative and non-lethal to avoid conflict between humans and wolves. We want to keep livestock alive and keep relationships good with everybody.” Members of Wolf Guardians say they are ready to put their bodies between the wolf pack and angry ranchers, if necessary, not always an easy task.
“Wolves cover a lot of ground” says Jones. “It’s hard to know where they are.” When asked what she means by “whatever it takes,” Jones says, “Show tunes, we bang pots and pans, make a lot of scary noises. Stuff like that.”
Meanwhile, down the road at Val and Earl Masters, Larry Feight from High Country Agriculture Marketing, and Larry Ray from Cenex, are collaborating on a fence installation, at another Defenders llama defense cost-share project, with the Masters chipping in with their compensation money from the llamas they lost in January. Says Ray, “Larry [Feight] is the guru of power fencing,” an electrified fence system that uses special energizers to deliver more power with much less duration that other fences, at about 4/1000ths of a second. Says Feight, “The more pain you create, the more psychological respect you get.
“Fladry is just a temporary solution, until you get power fencing. We are doing this installation ourselves so that we know it’s done right. Then the neighbors will see that it really works.”