18th Annual North American Wolf Conference

April 15, 2006

By Kim Holt, Wolf Recovery Foundation.

The 18th Annual Wolf Conference, April 3rd – 6th, once again held at the Chico Hot Springs and Resort in scenic Pray, Montana was a great success. Sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife, Wolf Recovery Foundation, Madison Valley Ranchlands, the Nez Perce Tribe and the National Park Service, this annual event calls on wildlife biologists, ranchers, wildlife managers, conservationists and wolf enthusiasts to come together to share information on the wolf recovery programs. Topics were presented on the Gray, the Mexican Gray and the Red Wolf, as well as other worldwide wolf issues.

This year, something new was added, a Nonlethal Techniques and Tools Workshop was sponsored by Defenders, the Wolf Recovery Foundation and the Sand Dollar Foundation. On April 3rd and 4th, a select group was present to learn from, as well as interact with, worldwide leaders in nonlethal tools and techniques for wolf management.

The day began with introductions, workshop guidelines and objectives. The first discussion, lead by Dr. Marco Musiani of the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada discussed lethal control and it’s limitations, followed by Lane Adamson of Madison Valley Ranchlands and his take on the advantages of using range riders to protect livestock. Nonlethal resources and partnerships, another interesting technique was discussed by Erik Suffridge a Research Conservationist who talked about a group called Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that offers assistance to impacted livestock producers.

Fladry, turbo-fladry, RAG boxes and electric fencing are also valuable tools and a demonstration outside by Rick Williamson of USDA Wildlife Services certainly livened up the discussions with an “invitation” for a volunteer to test the effectiveness of the electric current as a predator deterrent.

Rick Williamson discusses turbo-fladry at the wolf conference's non-lethal workshop

Tom Gehring and two of his students from Central Michigan University, Anna Cellar and Shawn Rossler, discussed shock collars and guard dogs as useful tools. Ray Coppinger, a leading authority on livestock guarding dogs provide much valuable information as well as lively dialogue in his presentation on the usefulness and diversity of guard dogs as well as shepherding. Less than lethal ammunitions again took the group outside for a demonstration by Rick Williamson and Carter Niemeyer (retired USFWS Idaho Wolf Coordinator) on cracker shells and rubber bullets. Animal husbandry and alternative grazing provided a very interesting section, presented by our neighbors to the north, Jim Pissot and Charles Mamo, Defenders of Wildlife and Joe Englehart, Rancher in Alberta, Canada. Stewart Breck finished the workshop discussions with a panel on landscape level approaches to enhancing co-existence.

At the end of the second day, everyone was brought into the discussion for a review of recommendations. Bob Landis, world renowned videographer, filmed much of the workshop and several individual interviews. The objective of this workshop is to produce a video and a written text of the techniques discussed, why they work as well as why and when they do not work. The finished products will be made available to wildlife managers as well as livestock producers.

This groundbreaking workshop was the brain child of Suzanne Stone, Rocky Mountain Field Coordinator for Defenders of Wildlife. Overall, not all issues had answers, in fact, in some cases more questions were raised, but the open discussions between rancher and wolfer is only the beginning for a workable and peaceful coexistence.

After two days of this stimulating workshop, the actual conference kicked in on Wednesday morning. As usual it provided reports for the recovery areas – Yellowstone, Idaho and Montana – as well as updates on hopefully the up and coming wolf areas of the Southern Rockies and Oregon.

The Red Wolf program was discussed by Team Leader Bud Fazio and the Mexican Wolf program was represented by Pat Valentino of the California Wolf Center and Eva Sargent, Defenders of Wildlife.

Marco Musiani talked about the “seasonality and recurrence of depredation.” Musiani's two presentations at the conference were covered by the news media and have since appeared as news articles around the world.

Nathan Varley provided interesting data on Yellowstone’s Trophic Cascade and Bridgett vonHoldt of UCLA answered the question, “Who’s your Daddy?” in her study of the genetics of the restored wolf populations. Carlos Carroll of the Klamath Center for Conservation discussed the Distinct Population Segments and Dr. John Duffield of the University of Bozeman attracted media attention in his "Wolves and People in Yellowstone" talk, regarding the economic impacts the wolf has made on Yellowstone and the surrounding region..

The annual Alpha Award Banquet provided tears, laughter and a few dollars exchanged hands, all for the wolf. Dr. Diane Boyd, now with the Prickly Pear Land Trust received the prestigious Alpha Award, presented annually by the Wolf Recovery Foundation, for her outstanding work in wolf recovery. Former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jamie Rappaport Clark, now Executive Vice President of Defenders of Wildlife gave the riveting keynote speech on the Endangered Species Act.

The Silent/Live Auction brought in over $5,000 to benefit nonlethal techniques for wolf management. Rick Williamson was again the live auctioneer and was so good at it, he even had some folks bidding against themselves on certain items! Of course it wouldn’t be complete if the entertainment factor wasn’t mentioned. Roy Heberger and his band, The Bitterbrush Blues Band provided incredible tunes in the “legendary” Chico Saloon.

The conference was indeed a success, but perhaps the final panel of the day says it all for the strides we have all made in co-existence with the wolf. A panel of six ranchers, put together by Lane Adamson, talked about the issues a livestock producer lives with in wolf country. This coming together of all sides of the wolf issue is monumental. A few years ago, this would never have been the case. Steps have been made, but much more work is needed.

This 18th annual wolf meeting again provided the opportunity for all of us to learn from each other, share with each other and move forward in a world where at last the howl of the wild wolf can be heard again.

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