Jen Bidner, Associated Press
BOISE Loudspeakers blaring out the recorded sound of gunfire or other loud noises or dog shock collars could resolve problems with wolves before ranchers resort to a rifle bullet, researchers believe.
Since the federal reintroduction of 35 wolves into Idaho in 1995-96, conservationists have warred with opponents of the predator. In the past three years, at least 30 wolves have been killed or removed in and around the Sawtooth National Recreation Area due to conflicts with livestock.
"There's no one simple solution for the wolves," said John Shivik with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services. "What we're trying to produce is options. You can never have too many tools in your toolbox."
Shivik, Adrian Treves with the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York and Peggy Callahan of the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minn., reported on those alternatives in the December issue of Conservation Biology.
They researched whether devices called RAG or radio-activated guard boxes would scare off wolves.
The RAG boxes have cassette players that are activated to broadcast loud noises when wolves with radio collars come too close.
The three researchers compared the predators' consumption of road-killed deer carcasses and of dog food before and after being exposed to the noise.
The sound scared the wolves off to the point that roadkill consumption dropped by two-third and dog food consumption by three-quarters.
This experiment was done on wild wolves and bears in Wisconsin.
The problem with the RAG boxes is wolves can learn to ignore the noise.
Instead of scaring the wolves, electric collars like those used to train dogs may teach them to stay away from livestock, said Shivik, who has researched their use. They would also activate if the wolves get too close to calves or lambs protected by the system.
"It's the same way that wolves learn not to eat porcupines," he said. "It's just not worth it."
Federal experts have about a dozen RAG boxes at their disposal in Idaho, said Carter Niemeyer, Idaho wolf coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He agrees the wolves can become habituated to the boxes, and they work better in tight spaces than wide-open range.
And an inherent problem in the West is most wolves are not collared.
Niemeyer estimated there are about 760 wolves in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, where the recovery project has been concentrated. About 360 are in Idaho. Although some wolves are captured and collared each winter, only about 50 Idaho animals have collars, Niemeyer said.
Wolf reintroduction has succeeded in the Northern Rockies and the federal government is preparing to pull them off the Endangered Species List if populations can be maintained. The RAG boxes and shock collars may not be a complete answer, but they may save some wolves and livestock.
"High-technology devices are much more expensive, complicated and limited in effectiveness than a single bullet from a high-powered rifle, but they also allow a predator to live surely the goal of conservation," Shivik said.
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