Epiphany on the Prairie

We invite you to read this moving essay by an Oregon State University wildlife biologist who has compassion for ranchers when wolves attack their cows and sheep, even as she marvels at the awesome power and beauty of wolves in the wild.


December 30, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the latest issue of Terra+, Oregon State University’s research newsletter. We invite you to read this moving essay by an Oregon State University wildlife biologist who has compassion for ranchers when wolves attack their cows and sheep, even as she marvels at the awesome power and beauty of wolves in the wild.

By Patricia Kennedy

Pat Kennedy
Wildlife biologist Patricia Kennedy

LIKE MANY WILDLIFE BIOLOGISTS in my generation, my first wolf sighting was in the late 1990s in Yellowstone National Park. With 23 undergraduate wildlife biology majors in tow, I gazed incredulously as the 18-member Lamar Pack stalked a herd of elk; an amazing sight I never dreamed I would see in my lifetime. As a graduate student in the late-1970s we rarely discussed wolf management; bringing them back didn’t seem feasible. Social acceptance of wolves was light-years away.

I didn’t fully understand the concerns about wolf reintroduction until I found myself decades later staring at several wolf-killed beef carcasses on the Zumwalt Prairie in northeastern Oregon. It was not a pretty sight. The owner who stood next to me sadly murmured, “It’s not about the money – we regularly manage economic loss; but I am tasked with taking care of these animals, and at this I failed.”

The ecological benefits of wolves and other large predators are indisputable; ecosystems with overabundant prey, such as elk, don’t function as well as systems with the full complement of trophic levels. These “complete” ecosystems will likely be more resilient to future impacts from climate change and disrupted fire regimes. In the long-term the ranchers will benefit from these ecosystem services. However, this does not compensate for the grim reality of wolf predation on stock; these losses need to be treated with compassion by society and minimized, preferably with non-lethal methods.

Wildlife biologist Patricia Kennedy is a researcher in the Eastern Oregon Agriculture & Natural Resource Program and Department of Fisheries & Wildlife.

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2 thoughts on “Epiphany on the Prairie

  1. Ms. Kennedy,
    What about the use of LGDs (Livestock Guard Dogs) by the ranchers? These are used throughout Europe, Russia and Turkey to protect herds and flocks from wolves and other predatory animals. Or is this a case of a herd left to graze without any supervision and occasional losses being acceptable? To use LGDs they would have to have a herdsman/ shepherd on hand to feed them so maybe not something ranchers would want to do.
    Thank you for your answer.
    Charles T.

  2. Dear Charles: Thank you for your thoughtful questions relative to my essay in the recent wolf delisting article in OSU’s Terra magazine. That essay reflects my early experiences with wolf depredations in NE OR and these occurred early in the wolf’s re-appearance in Oregon. At that time cattle were managed as they have been since the wolf became extinct in Oregon – with little supervision. However, since wolves have been back in Oregon’s landscapes ranchers are exploring more non-lethal options to reduce the probability of depredations including range riders and guard dogs. I agree with you that these tools need to be encouraged – in particular I think the feasibility of using guard dogs has not been well tested with wolves. I stated that in the last sentence in the essay but there wasn’t room to explore this in more detail in that format.

    I was just on sabbatical leave at the University of Tasmania where I visited the lab of Professor Chris Johnson who is an expert on the use of guard dogs as a tool to reduce dingo depredation. They are very effective with packs of dingos but dingos are much smaller than wolves so the breed of dog may have to differ in wolf country.
    A PhD student, David Kinka, at Utah State University, is conducting research on this topic. You can read a good summary of this research in a recent article in High Country News.
    https://www.hcn.org/articles/searching-for-the-best-dog-to-save-livestock-and-wildlife

    Sincerely,

    Patricia L. Kennedy, Professor
    Eastern Oregon Agriculture & Natural Resource Program
    Department of Fisheries & Wildlife
    Oregon State University
    PO Box E
    372 S. 10th Street
    Union, OR 97883
    541-562-5129 X 31

    “I must say, I find everything interesting.” Dame Miriam Rothschild

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