On Wolves and Livestock

Grey wolf
From True Wild / Mountain Journal

I live in Montana, a state that has declared all-out war on its small and fragile wolf population. Many (most?) Montana ranchers loathe wolves. (And that is an understatement.) They say that wolves kill huge numbers of their livestock, causing significant financial damage.

So I was especially interested in an article a friend sent me recently about a humane way to deter predators from dining on livestock: The BarkLight collar.

The collars work on farms and ranches where livestock guard dogs are hard at work. When the dog barks, on smelling or seeing a predator, the collar lights up. This is a mild deterrent to the wolf or mountain lion (who, according to some research, kill far more livestock than wolves in Montana). But the really cool, hi-tech part is what happens next: The collar is networked with lights on the property. If the dog barks, the collar lights stay on and the lights around the property also activate. This not only deters the wolf/lion, it alerts the ranchers.

This is not a solution for all ranchers, of course. Many graze their livestock on  unfenced land … land that is often unfenced because it is public land. And there are no guard dogs, lights, or ranchers nearby to come to the rescue.

Or their ranches are so large that the cattle, bison, or sheep range over too large an area for this system to work.

I have to admit that I don’t have an enormous amount of sympathy for any losses suffered by many of the ranchers, especially the ones using public lands to enrich themselves.

And, I recently saw a wonderful documentary, True Wild, about, yes, wolves coexisting with free-ranging bison and elk on a huge (114,000 acres!) ranch. The movie explores the effects of the wolves on livestock and finds that losses are negligible.

Whatever the true story about wolves and Montana livestock, I am encouraged by the use of technology to find ways to protect wolves and encourage ranchers and farmers to use humane methods to deter predation.