Diverse voices come together to discuss living with California wolves in recent nonlethal workshop

I remember when California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife reported OR-7’s appearance in California in late December 2011. OR-7 was the first wild wolf in the Golden State in nearly a century. What an historic event! I never thought that would occur in my lifetime.
It wasn’t until we learned about the presence of our resident Shasta Pack just this past August that it hit me: California wolf country is a reality, and we have a golden opportunity to make a tremendous difference for this iconic species.
Nonlethal workshop, © Pamela Flick/Defenders of Wildlife
But with great opportunity comes great responsibility. It’s imperative that we make sure that all parties involved in wolf recovery – private landowners, ranchers, hunters, wildlife officials and local wolf advocates – work together to help Californians share the landscape with our newly resident wolves. 
Wolf management is a sensitive topic for many, but the more productive, respectful dialogue we can have on the issue, the better. The recent nonlethal workshop in the small northern California town of McArthur is a great example. This was the first nonlethal workshop held in the northern part of the state, where wolves are now established. Since wolves are protected under both federal and state law in California, it is critically important for ranchers to know how to protect their livestock from conflicts with wolves by using proactive strategies. By making sure that sheep and cattle are safeguarded from predation by wolves through the use of these nonlethal tools, ranchers can protect their bottom line, plus there is less pressure to lethally remove wolves for killing livestock, as has happened elsewhere in the West.

Fladry and other nonlethal materials, © Pamela Flick/Defenders of Wildlife
Defenders has extensive experience in developing and implementing tools to reduce conflict between wildlife and livestock in different regions of wolf country. We help ranchers use proven, nonlethal solutions to prevent attacks on livestock. It can be anything from using range riders to patrol for wolves, to electric fencing to keep grizzlies out of small pastures, chicken coops and bee yards. We also provide communities with resources to help minimize conflicts (like bear-resistant trash cans), and educate people on how to deal with wildlife encounters.
 Across the country, our coexistence efforts have resulted in great outcomes for ranchers. At the workshop, I shared examples of these positive outcomes with more than 150 participants, who were actively engaged throughout the very long day. Many were interested to learn about the Wood River Wolf Project in central Idaho, where wolves have successfully shared habitat with the state’s highest concentration of sheep grazing on public lands – all with minimal livestock losses and no need to lethally remove wolves in the area.

I am pleased to report that Defenders and several of our conservation partners worked closely with Wildlife Services to organize and host this workshop. It’s no secret that Defenders has serious concerns about Wildlife Services’ lethal wildlife management strategies for wolves, particularly when it comes to lethal control to boost game populations. However, it is worth noting that the agency has recently ramped up its work to share information with ranchers about nonlethal prevention strategies to protect their livestock, not just here in California but in states throughout the west, including where we have the highest number of wolves and other large predators. This has been a welcome shift in Wildlife Services and one that we’d like to see more of well into the future.

While the workshop in McArthur was an incredibly important first step in California wolf recovery efforts, it is just the beginning. This year will bring even more opportunities to work with our ranching, conservation and government partners on this important and historical conservation opportunity in California. Through open communication and collaboration, it is my hope that we will all be able to find ways to live in harmony with wolves as they continue to make their return home to the Golden State.