For centuries, wolves have been a polarizing topic globally, demonized by society around the world. Sharing misinformation and exaggerating the truth about these sentient creatures has led to the persecution of a species that is more vital to our ecosystem than many can imagine.   

Maxwell McDaniel, lead field biologist for the Wood River Wolf Project, is on a mission to dispel the myth of the big, bad wolf and believes that education is the best way to change their narrative. Maxwell shares, “I have a general love and appreciation for predator species, however, when it comes to wolves—what inspires me the most is their intelligence and their family system…it is so unique in the animal world.”

“When I first went back to school, I was sitting outside reading a magazine about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. I was surprised by the public’s reaction to the news. I didn’t know much about the topic, but I knew there were those who greatly opposed the reintroduction, and those from environmental backgrounds working on the ground to make it happen. I’ve learned over the years that there needs to be a middle ground and trying new approaches with those who oppose these creatures is critical to their survival”, Maxwell explains.  

Founded in Blaine County, Idaho in 2008, the Wood River Wolf Project has been helping sheep herders implement nonlethal strategies to successfully reduce livestock losses and protect native wildlife. And Maxwell has been an integral part of ensuring the success of the project for the 2023 season. To date, the project oversees up to seven bands of sheep who currently reside in the same territory as two wolf packs.  

He found inspiration in the Wood River Wolf Project’s direct exposure to communicating with some of wolves’ greatest opponents and helping them to understand that it is possible for wolves and humans to coexist with the right strategy and solutions. “Idaho’s state mandate on wolves is aggressive, retaliation on wolves is reactive…it’s the nonlethal tools and solutions that give us the opportunity to prevent any conflict and incidents to begin with. If there is no conflict, there is no reason to react, and wolves won’t be killed in response to livestock losses. From my experience on the ground in Blaine County, providing nonlethal tools and showing ranchers and shepherds in the area that there is an alternative asset that can be useful basically opens the whole door to a new agenda, that coexistence can work and there is some semblance and method that they can rely on if used properly.” 

Maxwell describes what a typical day supporting the project looks like. He chuckles, and shares that every day is different, but he knows he will be either out very early in the morning or out very late in evening when wolf activity is at its prime. Some nights, he camps out in a tent adjacent to livestock shepherds in the field to assess any potential wolf activity.  

On other days, he delivers band kits filled with Foxlights, airhorns, and other nonlethal tools to ranchers and shepherds, and checks cameras set up to document wolf activity in the area. This, at times, requires hiking or cycling for miles into the wilderness and rugged mountains, where he frequently communicates with individuals within the field for direct updates on any potential wolf activity near their livestock.  

When asking Maxwell which nonlethal tools those within the ranching industry favor the most, he mentions LED collars for their livestock guardian dogs. The dogs act as an alert system, and the flashing light of the collars is very similar to another nonlethal, stationary tool, known as Foxlights. It takes a hybrid approach including noise makers, human presence, range riders and more, but almost always when implemented correctly, results in the protection of livestock without any wolf interference.  

Maxwell believes that education is key. Some people are left in the dark about how wolves are being treated in Idaho—aggressively killed just for existing. “I guarantee if people knew how wolves are being handled by the state, they would be more inclined to help protect their future.”  

When asking Maxwell his greatest advice for ranchers and communities experiencing conflict with wolves, he states that listening to everyone goes a long way. “Every person has a voice, people like to be heard, and it’s so important to educate yourself about what is happening before engaging in conversation. If you’re willing to have an open dialogue with everyone and share the facts, you have more of a chance in helping to raise awareness for wolves with those who initially oppose or fear them.”  

You can learn more about the Wood River Wolf Project at 

The Wood River Wolf Project is a demonstration study run by The International Wildlife Coexistence Network.  Our Director Suzanne Asha Stone is the cofounder of the Wood River Wolf Project. You can see her published study on the project’s findings at Adaptive use of nonlethal strategies for minimizing wolf–sheep conflict in Idaho | Journal of Mammalogy | Oxford Academic ( 

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