An ongoing effort to reduce risks to livestock in wolf ranges has produced a new strategy being promoted by one Siskiyou County rancher whose livestock roams in the range of the first recorded wolfpack in California in decades.
Butte Valley rancher Mark Coats has been involved in efforts to address wolf-livestock issues since OR-7 – the first wolf documented as having entered state in nearly a century – entered California in 2011. That effort saw Coats pair up with environmental groups to develop a range rider program that has been shown to deter wolves by increasing human presence around livestock grazing areas.
While the partnership – referred to as Working Circle – is still active, Coats has parted ways with the group and continues to work on ways to protect livestock within the confines of the law, as the gray wolf is a protected species under the Endangered Species Act.
One result of that work has been the publishing of a website, www.rancherpredatorawareness.com, which provides a new way to think about herd management in an effort to reduce livestock losses while at the same time not creating more issues in the heated debate over ranching and wolf management.
Specifically, Coats, along with two other area ranchers, worked on a new stockmanship approach that aims to alter how cattle respond to the presence of predators, focusing on the cows rather than the wolf itself.
In a report available on the website, Coats indicates that the approach is driven by the theory that teaching cattle to calmly herd together at the first signs of danger is better than promoting behaviors that see them scatter – which pack predators rely on to cull old, young, or sick members of the herd. On the other end of the spectrum, Coats notes that more aggressive cows can also present a problem – separating themselves from the herd to chase down wolves can open them up to attack as well.
The report indicates that an underlying idea is that cattle herding together interrupts the process on which wolves rely to separate their prey. The end result, Coats says, is that the cattle end up herding together, facing in different directions, with a more defensive and defiant presence.
The report also provides an extensive tutorial on getting the herd to that point – from exercises to run as well as what type of dog would best assist in the process.
Referencing recent decisions in Washington to allow for the shooting of problem wolves – and the attendant political issues – Coats said that he hopes the stockmanship strategy can get better results for California. “It makes a statement that we’re trying to be proactive – that we’re not just out here shooting and harassing wolves,” he said.