The Wood River Wolf Project

Only the mountain
has lived long enough
to listen objectively
to the howl of a wolf.

— Aldo Leopold, 1949

wolf looking a the horizon
left wolf print
wolf exploring the forest
Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the 1930s gray wolves (Canis lupus) were eradicated from the western United States because they were considered a threat to cattle and sheep ranching. Decades passed and the wolf faded into history becoming only a character experienced in children’s fairy tales.
As environmental awareness grew, people began to understand the role that wolves filled was beneficial to the western ecosystems. In 1974, wolves gained protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) and reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho in the mid-1990s. The reintroduction has been heralded as one of the most successful restoration of a species in the United States.
right wolf print
left wolf print
left wolf print
right wolf print
left wolf print
pair of wolf prints
pair of wolf prints
left wolf print
white wolf
human on a hill with a tool
livestock guided by guardians
In 2007, a newly-formed wolf pack denned in an area just a few miles from the Sawtooth National Forest Recreation headquarters near Ketchum, Idaho. Local residents nicknamed them the Phantom Hill pack after a local landmark. Later that spring, over 1000 sheep and the accompanying working dogs were released to start their summer grazing unfortunately too close to the den where the wolves were raising their pups. As a result, the wolves killed 12 sheep and a livestock guardian dog.
Under these circumstances, members of the pack or the entire family of wolves would normally be killed in response. However, collaborators from the wolf conservation and ranching groups agreed to a plan, testing nonlethal deterrents to keep wolves from killing livestock across the local grazing area. That agreement led the creation of the Wood River Wolf Project in 2008.
human placing non lethal deterrents
set of tools
The plan included putting the sheep into portable turbofladry night corrals (electrified fencing with flags that ward off wolves) when they were near the wolves, adding more livestock guardian dogs, and using light and sound devices to keep the wolves away from the sheep bands. The plan worked and resulted in the birth of the Wood River Wolf Project.
That was 14 years ago and today the project is still going strong. On average, only five sheep per year (.0025%) of 20,000 sheep are lost to wolves annually and only one wolf has been killed in response to depredations in the project area since efforts began in 2007. Wolves once eradicated from this western landscape are now restored and again fulfilling their unique ecological role.
sheep on the move
livestock and non lethal deterrents
The Wood River Wolf Project’s first seven years was established as a demonstration study, Adaptive use of nonlethal strategies for minimizing wolf–sheep conflict in Idaho was published in the 2017 Journal of Mammalogy. It was the first landscape level study of its kind and the Project has since become a model for coexistence efforts internationally. Lead author Suzanne Asha Stone, the Wood River Wolf Project’s co-founder, is also a co-founder of the International Wildlife Coexistence Network.

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