Officials with Idaho Fish and Game confirmed Thursday some of the details behind a major wolf depredation event that took place in the Boise Foothills earlier this month. IDFG initially received a report of two wolves causing a pileup that killed an entire flock of 143 sheep.
“According to reports from the sheepherder[s],” the agency explained in a press release, “wolves caused the sheep to flee in panic and then crush or suffocate each other in an effort to escape the wolves.”
Upon further investigation, wildlife officials found two sets of wolf tracks at the location. The tracks led to a steep gully where all 143 sheep were originally found dead.
IDFG then issued a request to the USDA’s Wildlife Services to locate and remove the wolves. Their efforts were unsuccessful.
The sheep belonged to rancher Frank Shirts, who told the Associated Press that his herders and their guard dogs were able to chase off the predators before they could consume any of the sheep. Shirts also said it was the most severe wolf depredation event he has ever experienced, and that he will be seeking compensation for his losses through the state’s depredation program.
The incident serves as a reminder of the challenges associated with managing mixed-use landscapes in the West—where the debate surrounding wolves is a constant point of contention between ranchers and wolf advocates.
“This sadly exemplifies why wolf management in Idaho can be so challenging,” IDFG Director Ed Schriever said. “People cherish the Foothills for its diversity of wildlife, along with the opportunities for grazing, recreation, and other activities. In this instance, a pair of wolves caused a significant loss of sheep for a rancher, and despite our efforts as a department to reduce or prevent this, it can still occur, and we regret that rancher Frank Shirts and his herders had to deal with this loss.”
Regarding those efforts, the agency confirmed that since January 1, IDFG has worked with Wildlife Services to remove a total of 31 wolves that were involved with livestock depredations—with hunters and trappers in Idaho taking an additional 130 wolves in the same period of time. Zooming out even further, the agency has authorized the statewide removal of 324 wolves that preyed on livestock over the past five years.
“Wildlife Services typically removes five to 14 wolves annually from the Foothills in response to livestock depredation,” according to IDFG. “The Idaho Fish and Game Commission and the Idaho Legislature in recent years have liberalized wolf hunting and trapping seasons in an effort to reduce conflicts in areas where chronic livestock depredations occur.”