Wolf pack wiped out for ‘surplus killing’

  • Sheep guarded by dogs graze near Odell Lake on the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in southwestern Montana. Multiple guard dogs in a herd can reduce losses by half

    SCOTT BAUER PHOTO, USDA
  During the night of June 29, the nine wolves in the Cook pack took part in what biologists call a "surplus killing" north of McCall. They killed 70 sheep, far more than they could eat. In all, the pack — Idaho’s largest — reportedly killed more than 190 sheep the past two summers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and ranchers had tried to discourage the wolves, using cracker shells, sirens, lights, and live fire from shotguns, all without success. So on July 20, federal wildlife agents killed the entire pack.

Despite this, some environmental groups and the Fish and Wildlife Service say the wolf program is working well, and that the Cook pack incident proves it. Since wolves were reintroduced in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in 1995, at least 207 wolves have been executed for preying on livestock, yet the region’s population has grown to about 700 wolves.

In fact, nonlethal means of separating wolves from livestock are becoming more successful, says Suzanne Stone of Defenders of Wildlife, a group that reimburses ranchers for losses. Though other techniques failed in this case, she says that when multiple guard dogs are placed among herds, livestock losses drop 50 percent. "We haven’t found the perfect techniques for every situation," says Stone. "It was tragic that the pack was killed, but the amount of effort to avoid lethal control speaks well of the program."

Jon Marvel, head of the Western Watersheds Project in Hailey, Idaho, calls the killings "completely unnecessary," saying more should be done to control domestic sheep — which he calls "bonbons" for wolves.