Statement by Cheri Beno on the Whitehawk Pack after being one of their guardians last summer.
By Cheri Beno
On April 2, 2002 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service implemented control actions on private land on the East Fork of the Salmon River near Clayton, Idaho. Two gray wolves, members of the Whitehawk Pack were lethally controlled after depredating on a domestic sheep – ONE sheep (lamb) on March. 31.
Necropsies confirmed that the wolves, yearling males, had killed it.
This was the God-awful news I woke up to on April 2. My stomach turned and I thought I would be physically ill. Déjà vu! This couldn’t be happening again.
My name is Cheri Beno. I live in Washington State, but grew up in Colorado. My dad owned a restaurant & bar, but we also owned and produced sheep.
Cattle and sheep producers are great people- it was part of our livelihood – but my dad also instilled in me a great respect and love of the wild things, the predators.
Jeff Wood wrote a fine story in Defenders of Wildlife Conservation Magazine Fall 2001 issue titled "Idaho’s Underdogs." http://www.defenders.org/magazinenew/Fall2001/idaho.pdf. I was fortunate to be part of the program. Here are some of my experiences.
Last year Defenders hired me to help coordinate a new, all-volunteer program we called the Wolf Guardian Project.
Over a period of 3-1/2 months, from June 15 to Sept.30, 2001, thirty-two dedicated volunteers from 7 states joined me at various times in the beautiful Sawtooth National Recreation Area in central Idaho to monitor and protect 3 wolf packs.
First and foremost was the Whitehawk Pack. In the early spring this pack consisted of 4 adults and 9 pups. 8 sheep and 1 guard dog were killed by the pack on a public lands grazing allotment.
ADC/Wildlife Services lethally removed 2 adult males, one being the alpha. That left only the alpha female and another male to provide for the 9 pups.
More trouble was expected, so Defenders recruited the Wolf Guardians and sent us into action.
We also monitored and worked with the Wild Horse Pack in and around the Copper Basin near Sun Valley, Idaho and the Landmark Pack north of Stanley.
The Wolf Guardians acted as a crisis management team. Our goal was to reduce conflict between livestock and those endangered gray wolves.
To save the wolves we needed to also protect large bands of sheep. We did this by making it unpleasant for the wolves to even approach livestock.
We used radio telemetry to track and monitor the collared wolves in each pack, both from the ground and from fixed-wing aircraft.
RAG Boxes (Radio-Activated Guard Boxes) were invaluable harassing devices. Signals from the radio collared wolves would trigger and activate powerful strobe lights and ear-piercing noise from loudspeakers, accompanied by us – human activity – yelling, singing, and banging pots and pans. It worked beautifully.
In fact, three of the Guardians managed a fantastic medley of show tunes that we’re sure scared the beJesus out of the Whitehawk pack!
We also experimented with "fladry lines." This is a very inexpensive but effective harassment tool. The lines are simply rope or twine with long strips of plastic flags hanging from it. This "device" has been used successfully in Europe to deter wolves from attacking livestock. We constructed 3 miles of fladry and would run this line through the forest or meadows where the sheep graze and bed down.
In addition, we also erected and maintained transportable electric fencing. This was used to corral the bands of sheep at night.
The Guardians worked closely with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (Carter Niemeyer), USDA/ADC/Wildlife Services (Rick Williamson and Jeff Ashmead), the Nez Perce Tribe (Curt Mack), and many terrific folks at the US Forest Service in Stanley.
All these people gave much time and effort and provided equipment, technical training and information. Without their help, the project would have failed.
We worked hard to gain the understanding and cooperation of several sheep and cattle producers. Dennis Lehman (Dietrich, ID), John Faulkner (Gooding), Jim Humphreys (Stanley) and Bill Brailsford (Hagerman) all allowed the Guardians to work closely with their sheep and cattle, their herders and guard dogs. In the end, most of them appreciated what the Guardians were trying to accomplish.
Carter Niemeyer, head of USFWS Wolf Recovery in Idaho pointed out that the ranchers "Can’t help but be impressed by the selflessness of the Wolf Guardians. I think this situation demonstrates coordination between the New West and the Old. The owners of the sheep have put some trust in the Guardians and given them latitude to help their livestock. The volunteers are giving their time and energy for a worthwhile cause."
I must say that the Guardians didn’t have an easy job. We constantly walked a tightrope with ranchers on one side and conservation people on the other.
The Guardians used a practical kind of environmentalism and I’m certain this irritated some people on both sides. There are some in the conservation community who feel that livestock don’t belong on public lands. Livestock producers have used public lands for sometimes many generations and believe they deserve to continue grazing on allotments in our national recreation and forest areas. This is an ongoing battle, I’m afraid.
However – after the Wolf Guardian project started, no more wolves were killed due to depredation and the sheep were safe. I’m very proud of my involvement and of all those Guardians who worked hard and made a difference – they made it work. We all believed that at least 3 packs of Idaho wolves were the beneficiaries of the most successful experiment that has yet been tried by any conservation group.
In my heart I believe wolves everywhere deserve a fair shake, and that all top-line predators belong in our world. Someone more intelligent and with more far-seeing capabilities put them here in the first place. By far, man is the worst predator of all.
The Landmark Pack is fine for now, but the Wild Horse Pack may be in trouble due to the death of alpha female B66. Also, the alpha male B2 is very old with all the infirmities that come with old age.
Now the trouble with the Whitehawks. The alpha pair at this moment (April 5) are still alive – I call the female Alabaster. Her color is a beautiful creamy white. She was a great mother to her nine gray pups last spring and is probably pregnant again as I write this. The alpha male, B47, is a magnificent animal.
I’m especially fond of one pup from last spring. I was involved in her capture and collaring. I named her Weyekin. In the Nez Perce language, her name means Spirit Guide. However, I can only assume that she is one of the five animals already lethally removed within the past few days.
I’m still hoping against hope that the Wolf Guardians will go into action again this spring – but I’m sure it’s too late for the Whitehawk Pack.
There will always be wolves in the beautiful Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains. It’s perfect for wolves – but those public lands are also used for livestock grazing.
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Copyright © 2002 Ralph Maughan
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