Until today, fladry was not a part of my vocabulary, but it certainly is now. Fladry, it seems, is one of the nonlethal methods Oregon ranchers are employing to keep wolves away from their cattle.
I’ve written a lot about the battles in the West with ranchers, hunters, and outfitters pitted against conservationists and environmentalists. And I’ve despaired as the states pressed hard for the right to shoot any and all wolves on sight and the US government finally knuckled under and removed wolves from the endangered species list in 2011. Only the wolves in Yellowstone are still protected, and if they leave the park (not uncommon, since they can’t read the signs), they can and probably will be shot.
Now comes a very welcome report from Oregon that indicates there are effective, nonlethal ways to protect cattle from wolves. Defying past experience in other states, the Oregon wolf population is increasing while livestock losses are decreasing.
The no-kill rule was put into effect in 2011, and it seems to be working. Ranchers are employing gunshots in the air, recorded gunshots, and fladry — strings of fluttering flags — in combination with electrified wires to keep wolves away. Some ranchers use proximity alarms that trigger bright flashing lights and loud recorded gunshots when previously collared wolves approach. Others are putting bells on their livestock. Natural attractors like old bones and carcasses are being removed.
ABC News reports some interesting numbers:
Wolf advocates hope the Oregon experiment can spread elsewhere, especially Idaho, which had 746 wolves in 2011. In 2012, hunters and wildlife agents killed 422 wolves, compared with 296 for 2011. Sheep and cattle kills, meantime, went up from 192 in 2011 to 341 in 2012.
Idaho Fish and Game biologist Craig White said it “raised eyebrows” on both sides of the wolf debate when the livestock kills rose even as more wolves were killed. Previously the trend had been for livestock kills to go down as wolf kills went up. The state plans to continue killing wolves until elk herds — their primary prey and a popular game animal — start increasing, he said.
So far, Oregon’s no-kill approach is working. Whether the methods employed will lose their effectiveness as the wolves become accustomed to them remains to be seen, but they would be worth trying in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Ranchers, hunters, and outfitters in those states have been intransigent in the past, but the numbers don’t lie.