Just over 10 years ago the gray wolf officially returned to Central Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, reintroduced during the Clinton administration under the direction of former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.

It was a controversial move, and it remains an emotional issue for opponents and proponents today.

Idaho ranchers say they've compromised in many ways to accommodate the new predators in their midst. It's been costly.

Ask John Peterman, of Emmett, Idaho, who runs two bands of sheep in the region from Banks in the Payette River Canyon into Round Valley, between the north and middle forks of the river. It's sometimes referred to as Packer John Country, remembering a 19th-century Idaho packer named John Welsh.

Peterman's bands average from 800 to 1,000 ewes each, with their lambs. Some years he has a third, smaller band.

"Wolves moved into the Packer John Country five or six years ago," Peterman said. "Four years ago, a den was found, and the female collared. I started seeing serious sheep losses to them about three years ago.

"Last year 21 were killed and 25 more injured in just one attack. Eight more injured animals died later," he said. "The biggest single incident we saw this year was eight killed and 11 bitten in one night."

Peterman was used to dealing with mountain lions, coyotes and an occasional bear attack. Coyotes still commit the majority of his depredation losses. There's a significant difference in how much harm they cause. Coyotes and mountain lion usually kill only one lamb or ewe at a time. Wolves take several each time they attack.

In early October, Peterman was gathering his sheep for the winter. He wasn't sure exactly what his 2008 total losses might be.

Wolf costs to his operation go beyond the numbers killed. It's no longer enough to have one herder and a camp tender with each band. Peterman has had to hire at least two herders per band and supply them with extra guard dogs, Great Pyrenees, which cost from $300 to $400 a month to feed.

"Two or three dogs in each band is enough with bears, coyotes or mountain lions. The dogs work well against those predators," the sheepman said. "Wolves seem almost attracted by dogs. They killed two of ours this year and injured three more. That destroyed their effectiveness. Those that weren't killed are reluctant to challenge wolves any more."

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.