Predator, sheep and Predator friendly Lamb and wool!
- From: chatnoir <wolfbat359a@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 16 Mar 2008 14:22:14 -0700 (PDT)
ot seen for century, wolf kills sheep
Predator makes kills in Two Dot area
By BRETT FRENCH
Of The Gazette Staff
TWO DOT - Her voice tinged with emotion and the video camera jiggling
in her shaking hand, Tonya Martin filmed and narrated the scene she
found behind her ranch home March 5 - five sheep had been killed by a
wolf and another five were wounded, three of them, as it turned out,
"In the end, it's hard to watch what your animals go through," said
Martin, 36, while showing the location of the slaughter on Thursday.
"It makes me question what the future will be with them."
Martin was driving a tractor out to feed her cow-calf pairs around
8:30 a.m. on March 5 when her mother-in-law, Katherine Martin, spotted
the big black wolf. The wolf trotted out of the brush, crossed the
county road, went under a barbed-wire fence and paused to look back.
"We knew what it was right away," she said. "Our first instinct was to
go after it."
At the time, Martin didn't know the wolf had killed five of her sheep.
Had she known, the .222 rifle that always rides in the tractor could
have been used to legally kill the wolf. It wasn't until the Martins
investigated that they found the sheep flighty and hiding in the
barren cottonwood trees along Big Elk Creek. Scattered around the
drainage were five dead sheep and five others that were injured.
A veterinarian was called to patch up the five injured sheep, most of
them with torn throats, but only two of those survived.
"I've never seen anything like it," Martin said. "Some were hamstrung,
their legs were broken and twisted. I'd never seen kills like it
before. The sheep were scared to death."
"It was a sad day, because I know he'll be back, and he'll be back
Tonya and her husband, Craig, are parents to the fifth generation of
Martins on their ranch. The family's roots along the windy
northeastern face of the Crazy Mountains reach back 114 years.
This rural area has come full circle. The first sheep were herded into
this part of the Musselshell Valley in 1876. By the early 1900s, it
was estimated that rancher Charles Bair owned more than 300,000 head
of sheep, making the area one of the top sheep-producing regions in
Sheep production has dropped precipitously across Montana and the
United States since the 1920s, for a variety of reasons. But Martin
likes having her nearly 400 head of sheep around as a way to control
weeds without using pesticides.
"They bring a lot more to the table," she said.
As sheep and settler numbers grew at the turn of the century, wolves
were exterminated across the landscape. The hide and skull of one of
the last wolves killed in the early 1900s in the Two Dot region hangs
on the fireplace of Martin's neighbor, Mac White. His uncles used to
hunt wolves with greyhounds and Irish wolfhounds.
"They got rid of them for a reason," Martin said.
But now wolves are back.
After being reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in the
mid-1990s, wolves have recolonized old territories and now number more
than 1,500 in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. As wolf populations have
grown, roaming wolves are breaking off to seek new habitat, new food
"Wolves are firmly established, and all of Montana is within the
dispersal distance of wolves," said Carolyn Sime, wolf coordinator for
the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Adult wolves have been known to wander up to 500 miles, crossing
interstate highways and big rivers - and there's even anecdotal
evidence they've swum reservoirs. Sixty to 80 miles is a more typical
traveling distance, which puts the Crazy Mountains, an island range,
within reach of four other known packs.
The Martin ranch, located 10 miles south of Two Dot, has been no
stranger to predators over the years.
"We had a 350-pound bear killing sheep in the lambing shed three or
four years ago," Martin said.
The big bear eventually was shot by a Harlowton hunter, but Tonya said
the situation was a bit too close for comfort. The family has also
weathered its share of coyote kills in the 13 years that Martin has
been raising sheep.
But she sees the wolf that attacked her flock a bit differently.
"They're vicious," she said. "It never ate a bite. It just killed for
fun. It's a completely different predator."
Sime said sheep trigger some "hard-wired" mechanism in wolves that
makes them tend to kill more than just one, although she said there's
no way to understand why the wolves do it.
"I don't really know if a wolf thinks that's fun or not," Sime said.
She also said a lone wolf will often kill and not return to the kill
site, electing to move on in search of other wolves.
"Wolves have a pretty big urge to move on because they're a pack
animal," Sime said. "They're looking for other wolves."
When other predators such as coyotes, bears or mountain lions kill an
animal, they usually return to feed, Martin said, and they don't
typically return with many friends, if any. That's what concerns her
most - that the lone wolf may signal the start of a new pack in the
area and more sheep losses.
Sime said that once nighttime temperatures get above freezing, a
government trapper will be authorized to set leg-hold traps to try to
catch the Two Dot-area wolf for collaring. When it's freezing, there's
concern that the animal could lose its paw in a leg-hold trap.
"That's a typical step for us when we have a wolf in a new area," Sime
The state would like to know whether the wolf was a loner, or the mate
of a breeding pair that may be looking to den and have pups this
It's calving season, and the Martins are already putting in long hours
tending their livestock. But since the wolf attack, they've been on
high alert. Bellowing cows have them grabbing their coats, slipping on
boots and rushing outside to make sure there's no problem.
Although the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife will pay
livestock owners for confirmed wolf kills, Martin isn't so sure she'll
"Morally, it's kind of hard because they are funded with donations of
people who wanted to put wolves here in the first place," she said.
THRIVING FARMS OF THE GALLATIN VALLEY
Thirteen Mile Sheep & Wool Ranch: Striving to Co-exist with Predators
By Alison Grey, 10-10-07
In Namibia, farmers are using guard dogs to drive off predators from
killing their livestock. In another rural African community, a woman
is planting chili peppers around her crops to deter the elephants. In
Mongolia, farmers are building corrals for their sheep with thorny
tops to ward off snow leopards.
In Montana, Becky Wood and her husband Dave Tyler, are using guard
dogs to protect their flock of sheep and lamb and herd of cows from
coyotes and mountain lions.
These non-lethal tactics of protecting livestock are beginning to be
utilized around the world. For Wood and Tyler, the tactic has proven
successful, with no dead livestock since they began.
At their ranch, Thirteen Mile Lamb and Wool, a natural fiber
processing mill located just outside of Bozeman, Wood is committed to
preventing conflicts with wildlife, and her ranch has been certified
as "Predator Friendly."
A member of the non-profit, Keystone Conservation, formerly known as
the Predator Conservation Alliance (PCA), Wood is part of a global
community of farmers who are paying attention to one another, to learn
from and inspire each other, in an effort to live with native species
instead of killing them.
The organization stresses the importance of providing an economic
incentive for small rural farms to co-exist with predators by
practicing non-lethal techniques to protect their livestock and crops.
A sustainable method of both farming and preserving wildlife, she
Keystone Conservation recently held a conference that brought farmers
together from around the world, which Wood attended, to talk about
alternative ways to practice agriculture. This is where she learned
about the techniques being utilized in Africa and Mongolia.
"You realize you are part of a larger community that is looking to
find alternatives to the mainstream, homogenized agricultural
systems," she said.
Sustainability also goes beyond non-lethal livestock protection.
Wood strives towards environmentally sound land management and farming
practices to help contribute to a naturally functioning ecosystem,
which she believes will allow agriculture to thrive in the long run.
Beyond spinning wool, the ranch also raises grass-fed cattle and lamb
for the local food market, she said.
To obtain their Certified Organic approval, their livestock is fed
without antibiotics or hormone supplements, they choose not to use
chemical fertilizers and herbicides on their fields, they fence
animals out of creeks to protect wildlife habitat and the quality of
drinking water and rotate pastures to avoid land degradation.
"I think it's important to strive for land management practices that
don't depend on chemicals," she said.
Wood believes mainstream agricultural practices carry a number of
limitations, including a dependence on fossil fuels, unhealthy
livestock resulting from poor nutrition and living conditions, stress
on the environment from chemical use and, in some cases, dubious labor
"Consumers are starting to pay attention," she said. "Parents,
especially, are questioning what they are feeding their kids. They are
starting to appreciate locally-grown food, and realize it is
different: it's better and it's tastier."
Along with Wood's focus on organic, sustainable production, she is
looking at other ways for rural communities around the world to create
small, de-centralized fiber spinning operations similar to her own.
Currently, the mega textile industry is a mammoth operation that
carries with it plenty of problems, particularly industrial plants
that focus little on environmentally sound techniques or humane labor
practices, she said.
Recently, she has been working with a company in North Carolina that
makes small scale spinning equipment.
By providing farmers with equipment and education, perhaps a smaller,
more sustainable form of agriculture could give rural communities the
tools to achieve an alternative way to farm, and live, she said.
While this notion of alternative agriculture as a mainstream
possibility is still a long way off, small organic farmers remain
hopeful for the future, she said.
"The sustainable agricultural community is hopeful, not just cynical,"
she said. "There is a sense of mission; while we struggle to make it
financially, we are also looking further down the road."
And for Wood, that means celebrating and protecting our local bio-
diversity and working towards creating a greater global community to
share ideas and inspire change.
"Organic farming isn't a quaint, sentimental notion that can only
happen in a few specific places," she said. "I believe it could be a
very viable, economically-sound, wide spread practice."
This is the last of a three-week series highlighting the working farms
and hands of the Gallatin Valley.
Living on Earth ... featured story
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the west, it's
not uncommon to see bumper stickers urging people to eat more lamb
because the coyotes can't be wrong. And ranchers have long dealt with
coyotes and other predators in the classic western style.
(A gun is shot)
CURWOOD: Most ranchers say killing predators is necessary, but the
practice upset some consumers who call for a boycott of wool products.
For the past 3 years, though, a small group of wool producers has been
protecting their flocks with non-lethal methods. As producer Bob Reha
explains, it's an attempt to lure back green consumers in an
increasingly competitive market.
REHA: Four years ago Congress repealed the law that imposed tariffs on
foreign wool imported to the United States, and since 1995 when the
tariffs ended, US wool producers have struggled to compete against
subsidized foreign producers. Meanwhile, old problems, such as coyotes
and other predators, remains a constant. The situation has prompted
some ranchers to take a new look at how they do business. Dude Tyler
is one of the founders of Predator-Friendly Wool, a small group of
ranchers that use non-lethal methods to protect their flocks.
TYLER: We have a very large segment of the American consumer telling
us there is a problem in our production methods, and we'd better
correct it or they're not going to come to our store.
REHA: To become a predator-friendly producer, a rancher must sign a
contract promising not to use any lethal control. Dude Tyler says it
can be difficult making the transition to non-lethal protection of
TYLER: I must say, from a personal standpoint it's pretty darn hard to
see coyote in the middle of your flock of sheep and not do something
(Fingers on a computer keyboard)
REHA: However, research by wildlife ecologist Bob Crabtree suggests
that doing nothing may actually be beneficial. Mr. Crabtree has spent
the last 13 years studying all aspects of coyotes' lives in
Yellowstone National Park and eastern Washington. Bob Crabtree serves
as Predator-Friendly's science advisor, and says ranchers who kill
predators overlook an important fact of life: competition for food.
Sheep, coyotes, and rodents share the same pasture. If too much of
that grass is eaten, the rodents will disappear. If that happens, the
predators turn to the sheep for a square meal. What's more, says Bob
Crabtree, with lethal control ranchers only get a short reprieve from
predation: 6 to 12 months. But if non-lethal methods are used, the
relief could last from 5 to 10 years.
CRABTREE: And it sounds counter-intuitive, you know, if you kill adult
coyotes that you're not alleviating the problem. But the problem is,
coyotes are social, and they pass this right on to other members of
the pack and often the next night there's another coyote to take its
place. So there's immigration into the area, and there's immediate
filling in the vacancy. So you'd think that if you kill a bunch of
coyotes that there's going to be fewer and less lambs are going to be
killed, but that's not the case.
REHA: What works best, says Mr. Crabtree, are guard animals.
He says dogs, llamas, and donkeys make more sense biologically,
although they will not eliminate the predator problem. Bob Crabtree
says there is no better deterrent for a territorial coyote than
another big dog that will establish his own territory and defend it
from predators. But Federal animal damage control agents disagree.
Larry Handegaurd is director of the Montana Office of the ADC, a
Federal program that assists ranchers and farmers with control of
wildlife that damage crops or prey on livestock. Larry Handegaurd says
he also uses non-lethal methods as a tool. But he adds those efforts
must be supplemented with lethal controls or ranchers' losses will
HANDEGAURD: Sheep producers still have anywhere from probably 3 to 5%
loss, some higher, but some research that was done several years ago
show that their losses could be as high as 20, 30% without control,
and that was a documented study. Thirty percent, I don't think many
sheep producers could stay in business at 30%.
REHA: Mr. Handegaurd contends that Crabtree's research has been done
only in controlled environments like Yellowstone National Park. Bob
Crabtree believes the problem is that ADC has not done any research on
how natural coyote populations work, or the effect of lethalcontrol on
WEED: Although relatively new in this country, people have been using
guard animals for a long time in Eastern Europe. People started using
guard dogs centuries ago, and ...
REHA: But while the debate continues over which approach is more
effective, producers of Predator-Friendly Wool like Becky Weed of
Belgrade, Montana, are seeing results. Becky Weed uses a llama to
guard her flock of 150 sheep. She's quick to point out that hers is a
small operation, but it's been successful. She hasn't lost a single
lamb to predators since she started using the llama 2 years ago. Becky
Weed is one of 6 predator-friendly producers who market their wool
together. In a market where raw wool prices fluctuate from 40 cents to
$1.50 a pound, the predator-friendly producers are doing well.
WEED: This year, the growers are getting $2 a pound for their raw
wool, which is a lot better than what the conventional ag market price
this year is. Some of the locals haven't even sold their wool yet
because the market is so soft.
REHA: Predator-friendly wool is made into hats and sweaters. Each has
a tag attached guaranteeing that the wool used to make the garment is
predator-friendly. Becky Weed says producers in the program have been
the subject of ridicule and peer pressure from within the industry.
Some growers in the program have received threatening phone calls.
Becky Weed believes it's because producers are frustrated and a new
approach to doing business makes an easy target.
WEED: The predator control issue is an incredibly emotional issue, and
sometimes it seems disproportionately emotional to the magnitude of
the real issue. And it's a lot easier to fit a coyote in our rifle
sights than it is to try to digest Chinese economic forces and drought
in Australia and the marketing savvy of the hog and poultry and beef
industries and all these other factors which have made it tough for
the lamb and wool people to do well in the last few decades.
REHA: Since 1993, 16,000 sheep producers in the US have gone out of
business. Members of the Predator-Friendly Wool project say as wool
prices continue to fluctuate, methods that will increase profits must
be considered. The time has come to question the old ways of doing
business and find ways to increase profits. Predator-Friendly members
don't pretend what they're doing is easy or a quick fix. But they are
encouraged by the success they're having so far. For Living on Earth,
I'm Bob Reha in Billings, Montana.
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