Jeff Siddoway

Return of the Wolves:The Next Chapter

Jeff Siddoway transcript
KUED/Wolves
 
Interviewer
Jeff, describe the rancher's position on wolves.
 
Jeff Siddoway
The rancher's position on wolves since their reintroduction into the state of Idaho in 1995 has been one of opposition. We've opposed the introduction, and we've opposed the expansion of the population in the state, and we have opposed that because we have suffered losses from depredation by those wolves.
 
Interviewer
Describe specific losses and how they affect the ranching business. Maybe you can talk about the 100 plus losses.
 
Jeff Siddoway
As far as our losses, I probably should stay fairly specific to our own operation, because those are the losses I know best, but I do know some of our neighbors have suffered losses. But the first year that we had losses was five years ago in 2007. There were some protocols that caused problems on answering the depredation problems between the state and federal agencies. But that first year, because of some of those protocol problems, we lost 269 sheep and lambs to wolves. The following year it was about half that. I believe it was about 148. This year has been an exceptionally light year. This year we've only lost about 30 head, and I can't tell you why because this year we have more wolves on more allotments than we have in the past.
 
Interviewer
What has been the reaction from the federal government?
 
Jeff Siddoway
The federal government, I think their primary responsibility was to the wolves, and not to the ranchers and the sportsman in the state of Idaho, and because of their insistence upon giving wolves priority over almost everything, that has increased some of the contention among the ranchers and the wildlife advocates in this state. The federal government is in charge of removal of wolves from areas where they are causing depredation, if removal is allowed by the federal government. So they have a dual responsibility to not only protect the wolves, but also to protect the ranching and the wildlife interests.
 
Interviewer
Talk a little bit about compensation by the federal government.
 
Jeff Siddoway
The federal government currently in 2012 has a compensation program that literally amounts to pennies on the dollar. I believe there is a million dollar compensation package that is divided up between twelve or thirteen states, and that division depends on how many wolves are in that state and what kind of problems are created by the wolves in those states. I believe Idaho gets about $100,000 per year to pay for loss and depredation. That money is funneled through The Office of Species Conservation and is overseen by a group of eight county commissioners that are charged with appropriating that money out to people with verified losses. Literally that amounts to about 30 cents on the dollar for verified losses. The verified losses are also a real contentious problem, because if anything fouls the prey that has been killed by the wolves, then the agencies that are in charge of making that verification can no longer determine that was killed by a wolf. If the birds mess it up, if black-bear, lion, guard dogs, herd dogs, anything like that fouls the evidence, then the agencies can't determine that, so there would be no compensation in those cases.
 
Interviewer
Talk about why the wolves are killing large numbers instead of just one animal at a time.
 
Jeff Siddoway
Sometimes the wolves will only kill a few animals, but sometime they'll literally kill a hundred, a hundred and twenty animals at one time. I believe the Solana Ranch in western Idaho had those cases. Rebish’s in Montana have had instances like that. And I don't know that anyone can really explain why the wolves kill so many animals, because even if they kill just one or two, a lot of times they won't even eat those animals. But to kill literally a hundred or a hundred plus animals, and there is no way they're going to eat those, you know the only justification I can see, and what few biologists have told me, is they just get into literally a killing frenzy where, wildlife a lot of times, they'll just be an individual animal or maybe a small herd of animals, and they'll take one out, but where in sheep especially, the animals come together, they bunch up, and that makes them much more vulnerable, and sheep are pretty slow animals when you compare those with say, cattle or some of the other species that wolves kill, and so I think that lends the sheep industry to be particularly susceptible to predation.
 
Interviewer
Tell us the value of one sheep.
 
Jeff Siddoway
Three years ago, and two years ago we had wolves get in our rams. They killed, I think, 38 head the first year and 42 head the second year. Rams during those times, and they were good years admittedly, and the sheep industry were costing between $800 and $1200 a piece, so if you kill 40 head of those that's going to be 30 to $40,000 worth of losses in just a couple of days. Those are the kind of injuries that we're suffering, and literally pennies on the dollar for compensation for those animals.
 
Interviewer
Can you talk about the bill being proposed and the more aggressive measures that you proposed in that bill?
 
Jeff Siddoway
As a state legislator, and a person that was having personal injury from wolf depredation, I introduced a bill two years ago in the state legislature and that bill had the ability to open up a lot of options on seeking relief from depredations from wolves by either livestock owners or pet owners. That bill would have allowed aerial hunting. It would have allowed shooting wolves from a snow machine, a four-wheeler, out of a vehicle, crossroads. It would have allowed aerial hunting and utilization of live bait, and when I say, "live bait," you would put perhaps some rams or some sheep in a coral, build a wolf-tight fence around that coral, put traps around the fence, and take care of the problem that way, or even use your dog on a leash, stake him out in a pasture and then turn on your wolf calls. When the wolves see the dogs they approach the dog and then you can take the wolves with the rifle. At the end of the day you load your dog up and come home. And the bill also allowed shooting 24-hours a day during the night, because about 90% of our kills have occurred during the nighttime hours, usually between two and three o'clock in the morning. So that bill covered all of those. What ultimately happened was, because of the provisions of hunting from an airplane, that would have jeopardized the listing of the wolf. It would have triggered the reevaluation of the agreement between the State of Idaho and the Federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency, so I ultimately withdrew that bill later on in the legislative session.
 
Interviewer
What would you say to wolf advocates who want to see wolves in the West?
 
Jeff Siddoway
Well, you know everything comes with a price, and as far as wanting the environmental groups and the wolf advocacy groups that want the animals here, when they were originally introduced, those folks said that they would step up to the plate and they would compensate for losses. As soon as the animals were delisted, they left that obligation and now they're asking the federal government to fund it, and the federal government hasn't been willing to step up, so what those advocates are basically doing is asking the ranchers and the wildlife, the hunters to foot the bill on this, and I just think that's grossly unfair.
 
Interviewer
Should wolves be hunted and why?
 
Jeff Siddoway
As far as hunting wolves, I think that yes they should be hunted, and they are no different than any other species. Now they're here their population is going to have to be controlled just like any other wildlife population that we have, such as our ungulate herds; the deer and the elk. If we didn't control those, they would simply grow to numbers so high that it would lead to starvation. Wolves, as you look back through history, were a great predator as far as controlling that prey base, but man came, man removed the wolves, the prey base was able to grow, then man has been the controlling factor on that wildlife prey base, and I think that now that the wolf population has been reintroduced and they've grown, they've reached a point where they need to be controlled or they'll virtually eliminate the wildlife like they're doing in Yellowstone Park today.
 
Interviewer
What did you think when you first heard about the reintroduction effort?
 
Jeff Siddoway
Back in 1990, I believe, we first heard about the reintroduction effort through our Senator, James McClure our United States Senator, and I just happened to be president of the Idaho Woolgrowers at that time and our Lieutenant Governor, Brad Little, was my vice president, and Senator McClure called several meetings and invited the woolgrowers to attend those meetings and be an active participant, and Senator McClure was an advocate for wolves because he believed that there were already wolves in the state of Idaho at that time. He was convinced that we had them, and if that was the case--if there were some residual populations in the state that had survived--then those populations were going to receive total protection under the full force and effect of the Endangered Species Act. If that was the case, anything anywhere that came in touch with those wolves would have had to have been removed if they had any adverse affect on them at all. Senator McClure convinced many of the industries in the state to accept the wolf under the experimental population protocols that would allow those wolves to be taken under certain instances under the 10J rule of the Endangered Species Act. The Idaho woolgrowers ultimately agreed to that reintroduction and we've regretted that decision ever since. Not that the woolgrowers or the Idaho Cattle Association or the timber industry or anyone else that had an adverse affect on them by the introduction was pro-wolf, it was just that we ultimately believed that that would have been the least hurtful of the possibilities--the decisions that would be made.
 
Interviewer
If wolves are here to stay in corridors or mandated, then what's the answer for living with wolves?
 
Jeff Siddoway
You know I think most of us have come to the realization that wolves are here. They're here to stay. If hunting or any other action reduces the number to that trigger, then the federal agencies are going to take over management again, so I think all that we can do in the state of Idaho is to work with Wildlife Services, for those of us that need relief instantly from losses, and with our sportsman groups to try to direct those sportsman groups and sportsman dollars into those areas where the wolf population can be reduced somewhat. Give the sportsman the opportunity to go in there, because we know very well that the sportsman have been one of the biggest losers in this game, that the wolves have preyed heavily on the prey-base in Idaho, and in some areas literally removed the ungulates from some of our hunting units, so if the sportsman can help out and keep those numbers under control, we think that the livestock industry believes there will be a number that we can live with, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife can live with, and that the environment community--the advocates of the wolf--can live with, and we look for that balance.
 
Interviewer
Talk about the lack of empathy when it comes to wolves, or sheep and the reaction to guard dogs.
 
Jeff Siddoway
You know when I tell people about the losses that we have in our sheep busine ss, or some of my neighbors have lost cattle, calves to the wolves, there seems to be almost a blasé so-so reaction to it, but when I mentioned that we've lost 14 to 18 guard dogs, Great Pyrenees guard dogs in the last four years to the wolves, that seems to really bring out some emotion, and I don't know why the difference--if it's because people identify more with a guard dog than they would a calf or a lamb, but there seems to be real empathy for the guard dogs that are out there doing their job. But if there's a single wolf or maybe two wolves, our guard dogs a lot of times can fight them off, but they don't necessarily… that doesn't necessarily mean that they don't kill sheep that night. But if a pack comes in of three or more, the first thing they do is kill the guard dogs. The guard dogs will run out to meet those wolves as they come towards the sheep, and when they hit those guard dogs, if there's a pack there they just tear them apart, and I mean literally tear them apart. You'll see a few of them where they just kill them, bite them in the neck, but a lot of times you'll see a leg over here, the head over there, the backbone over here, and you'll never find any guts. I don't know. They must eat all the entrails of the guard dog because we never seem to find any entrails. They're always gone. But it's a savage, savage scene when you see the guard dogs have been killed by the wolves.
 
Interviewer
Regarding solutions. What needs to be done that has not been done?
 
Jeff Siddoway
As far as solutions to the problems, I think that when the wolves were first introduced into the state, for the first ten years we didn't have a problem with them. There were a few of our neighbors that had some problems. Some of the wolves immediately started to kill some animals over in the Emmett and Payette part of the state, in the western part of Idaho, but I think that if we could reduce the population a little bit, then we would have a better chance of controlling our losses. When there are literally wolves everywhere, it makes it really hard, because they're so mobile, to get a control on them. But if there was only one pack in our area and we had that pack radio-collared, then we could find that pack if it was doing damage, and take some measures to at least reduce the population of the pack and hopefully lighten our losses. It may come to the point where that whole pack has to be removed, but if there are other packs in the area and those corridors are left open, then I'm confident that those populations will rebuild themselves, but I think that the only way that we're going to have a population of wolves in the state with a viable livestock industry is to keep those numbers at a minimum.
 
Interviewer
Can wolves and ranchers co-exist?
 
Jeff Siddoway
As far as the question about wolves and ranchers co-existing, I think that we have to now. I don't think we have an option. Under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act, if we're going to remain in operation, we've got to figure out a way that we can. Pyrenees guard dogs aren't good enough. We may have to change breeds of guard dogs. Sometimes that's going to take some experimentation. Sometimes that's going to just take a time-link. Sometimes it's going to be a hard decision for some of us guys that are getting up in years to make that conversion, because we have been so well satisfied with guard dogs protecting our flocks from black bear, grizzly bear, coyotes, and mountain lions. Now to change that success to address the wolf population and to look for other breeds of guard dogs that are bigger and more aggressive, it will probably take some time. Pyrenees dogs bond with the sheep very well. There's no sense in having guard dogs out there if the guard dogs are in the camp with the sheepherder. The dogs have to be out with the animals, and we've tried several different species, but the Pyrenees have been the only ones that we've really been satisfied with.
 
Interviewer
Is there any common ground between ranchers and advocates?
 
Jeff Siddoway ***
You know when you ask for common ground, you know where can we work with the people that want to see a viable, or a growing, or a big wolf population in the livestock industry? We ranchers that operate on the public lands know that there are a lot of different perspectives out there on how the land should be managed and what it should be managed for, and we realize that. It's hard to listen to people that really don't know anything about your industry give you advice on how you should operate and run your livestock, but we've had to do that. The federal agencies--the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management both, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife have made us listen to those people, those advocates. And I don't know… I struggle with not knowing how to answer those folks. If they would rather have wolves than they would cattle, it ends up to either me or them. If they would rather have sheep, or wolves than they would sheep, it's me versus them. If they would rather have wolves than they would elk, deer, and moose, oftentimes it's me versus them. That common ground in there is pretty hard to come by. We live with them currently, and we've come this far. I think we need to have a reduction in the wolf population in the state of Idaho and Wyoming for sure. I don't know if the advocates think that a reduction is warranted or not. You'll have to ask those folks.
 
Interviewer
Do you see any solutions that might come from the state or federal government?
 
Jeff Siddoway
Well as far as solutions from the state or federal government, you know, I think the best that we can do is when those areas where we're having losses, and they've been historical losses, or they're losses that are severe and serious enough that they need immediate address, then I think that the state and the federal government needs to make sure that we have the proper funding and the proper tools that those questions can be answered--that those that seek relief can get relief without running into any stumbling box, and I think that's probably the best that we can do right now.
 
Interviewer
What's the position of the Idaho legislature?
 
Jeff Siddoway
You know the Idaho legislature has a position since 2002 to support a population of ten packs or 100 wolves in the state of Idaho, total. And the management protocols that follow that are to allow for as many as 15 packs and 150 wolves to reside in the state of Idaho. The legislature still holds true to those numbers, but the population counts will range anywhere from about 800 wolves to almost 1600 wolves, twice that. I think the Idaho Fish and Game Department says that the top wolf numbers are about 1,245--still way, way over what the legislature has agreed to, and I think the legislature will push to try to get those numbers reduced. That's the feeling I have in the current legislative makeup.
 
Interviewer
Was delisting of wolves from the Endangered Species list a good idea and why?
 
Jeff Siddoway
Delisting of wolves in the state of Idaho was a good idea, and why is it allows us to control problem wolves more. It allows the state to put together a management protocol for the wolf population. We now hunt wolves in virtually every county of the state--every hunting unit of the state. Some of the hunting units don't have wolves, but those that don't have wolves are put into management units big enough to encompass enough area so that if a wolf does come into those areas that there will be the ability to hunt and control those wolves.
 
Interviewer
You talked about the decline of elk numbers in Yellowstone. Talk about that a little bit.
 
Jeff Siddoway
You know one of the surprising numbers that I ran into when I'd proposed my bill in the legislature was, as we looked on the National Park Service website, we just googled that site NPS, and as we read down through that we read some of the species population numbers. We saw where when the wolves were introduced into the Yellowstone Park in 1994, the population of elk was right at 18,000 head of elk, and when this latest study was done, the latest count, I believe it was done in 2010, that population in those 15 years had declined to less than 4,000 elk in the park, and you can read that if you just google the NPS. You can read that. Those aren't my numbers. Those are their numbers. And I believe that there was a biological opinion in there that said that within the next four years that they believed that the elk numbers would be less than 1,000 head remaining in Yellowstone Park. Now a lot of… you can blame population increases and declines on a lot of things, but Yellowstone Park had an artificial winter feeding ground at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where a lot of the elk migrated there, so a lot of the things that you would attribute to winter kills because of deep snows and starvation problems, they just don't add up. They're not one of the issues in the Yellowstone Park herd because of their migration out, and because of their supplemental feeding program. You can blame declines on diseases from Brucellosis to who knows what, and they just aren't the cause of those serious declines when you add them up. Usually the population would vary within about 10% from one year to the next, but now we have almost over a 75% reduction since the reintroduction of wolves in the park, and no one even tries to put the blame of that reduction on anything but the wolves.
 
Jeff Siddoway – interview #2
 
Interviewer
Jeff tell me about the story about losing the 50 head.
 
Jeff Siddoway
This is Yoni (?). He is one of our sheepherders that, he's herded in the Dog Creek allotment Forest about the last six years, and that's just when the problem started when he went up there I think the second year, and he was witness to the many sheep that the wolves had killed on our Dog Creek allotment. We just came out here to look at one of the sheep that the wolves have killed, and Yellowstone Park is just straight to the east of us about three miles, and so the wolves are coming out of the park and they're coming on to this land. These are hay fields and we put the sheep in the hay fields in the fall because they're high in estrogen, and the usual twin will have a lot more twins when we lay them if we keep them in the alfalfa fields. But last Sunday the wolves came in and they killed one of our rams here, and they also chased the sheepherder’s dogs right under the camp here, and these were the work dogs. They're not the guard dogs, but they were the Border Collie work dogs. They chased them right under the camp. He saw the wolves and got the rifle out and took a shot at them, but he wasn't successful in hitting them, and so they took off, but he says every night since then he's heard the wolves howling just right here around the camp--that they still come this direction, so we're anticipating more losses. We have several more alfalfa fields right here in this area, so we're trying to figure out some kind of a strategy on what to do and how to do it to keep the wolves out of the sheep and to keep the sheep alive. Johney Yoni (?), when he was in the mountains with the sheep this summer, he said that the wolves had killed about 50 head of our ewes and lambs up there on the summer range this year, and I had misunderstood that, and I thought that we only had about 30 loss, but he just corrected that incorrect information so the wolves are a problem. They're going to be a problem and Yoni (?) works hard it. You know I've talked to him. He'll stay out all night with the sheep. He beds… He puts his tepee up right next to the sheep at night. The guard dogs are there. The herd dogs are there. When he hears a ruckus he'll be right there and get up and shoot his rifle in the air. It's almost always at night when we have the problems, and Yani (?) has just done everything and gone beyond any real effort to try to keep those sheep safe, but despite his efforts, we still have those losses.
 
Interviewer
Could you tell me that again please? We had some wind gusts.
 
Jeff Siddoway
This is Yoni (?). He's one our Peruvian sheepherders that has been out with the band of sheep over in the Dog Creek Range all summer long. Yoni (?) has worked that range for about six years now, and for five of those six years we've had a real problem with the wolves on that Dog Creek herd. He's up there with them all summer long. He has worked really hard to try to keep the wolves out of the sheep. He tepees out with the sheep at night, so he's right there. If the wolves come, both he, his herd dogs, his guard dogs there to try to reflect any damage that they'll do, he'll get up in the middle of the night when he hears the ruckus between the dogs and shoot his rifle to try to scare the dogs off, or scare the wolves off, but despite that, we just was telling me that we'd lost some 50 head of his sheep and lambs to the wolves this summer. We're over here in what's called Lamont. It's an area east of Ashton and we're in private land in an alfalfa field and we put our sheep in the alfalfa fields every fall in order to flush them because alfalfa is high in estrogen. That will cause the ewes to ovulate more and we'll have a lot better twinning when lambing comes. And while here in this field last Sunday, two wolves came in and killed one of our rams and he heard the ruckus and he came out and the wolves came after his sheep dogs--the Border Collie-type sheep dogs--and they got after those sheep dogs and chased the sheep dogs right under the sheep camp, and he saw them coming and got his rifle out. Of course it was dark at night, and he shot a couple of shots at them but he wasn't successful in getting them, but Yoni (?) has done just a stellar job in trying to protect our livestock. He's out there all the time day and night trying to keep these darn wolves out of our livestock, and he does a great job, but there's only so much you can do out here in the middle of know where and you got pretty limited equipment on what you can use, but between him and the guard dogs we do our very best to try to keep these rascally wolves out of the sheep.
 
Jeff Siddoway – interview #3
 
Interviewer
What are we seeing here Jeff?
 
Jeff Siddoway
This was a buck that was most recently killed by the wolves here in a band of breeder ewes that we have up in the Lamont area. This particular buck was killed last Sunday. Today is Thursday, so it has been dead for four or five days, but each animal, each predator that attacks a sheep has a different footprint that they leave on the method that they use. Like a Grizzly bear will hit them on the side and rip them open. When they leave the animal after they've fed on it they'll almost always bury them in leaves and dirt and branches. A mountain lion will do that same thing. A mountain lion will bite them over the neck. But a wolf… a wolf always hamstrings them. They always get them on the back two legs, and for some reason wolves have taken the opportunity to kill rams if rams are in the sheep. It seems like they have a real attraction to a ram, and you know these rams were worth about $1000 a piece, and this was the first one that they killed in this area this year. Last year the wolves came in and killed some 31 ewe lambs that we had up in this same area. We came back this year with the band of ewes to flush them in the alfalfa fields around here, and this buck was killed about the first two days in this area, so the wolves are here. When the wolves came in to kill this ram the guard dogs and the sheep dogs started to bark at them, and the wolves came after the dogs. The sheep dogs, chased them right under the sheep camp, and the herder heard all of the commotion and he came out and shot at the wolves in the dark, but of course he wasn't able to get any wolves, but the next morning at daylight he found this ram and sure enough we called Wildlife Services. They came out and identified it and verified that it was definitely killed by wolves. Then there were tracks and I believe even some scat around this particular ram when they killed it.
 
End

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