July and early August have been hot and dry with just a few thunderstorms. We need rain badly but it's been good haying weather. We have half our hay put up and the rest is ready to cut. Michael and Carolyn have been busy with their custom haying, often 24 hours a day.
Andrea, Carolyn and I moved cows to the high range, taking a week to do it. The high cattle were easy to move; it was mostly a matter of making sure they were paired and letting them through the gates. The low ones had a long climb; there's 2,000 feet elevation difference in that pasture. Temperatures were high 90s but the cattle moved well in spite of it, since we never hurry them.
On the last day we rode 11 hours, finding and moving three groups. (This is when we appreciated horses with stamina, able to do this type of work many days in a row.) Carolyn rode up the mountain calling them and I brought up the rear to encourage the stragglers.
This year I took my camera and got photos of the line of cattle snaking up the mountain. It's times like this we're glad our cows are trained to follow. Two riders, without dogs, can take them anywhere, uphill or down, through heavy timber or brush, one calling and the other following.
Watching Predators Some of the cows in the high range have now drifted into Withington Creek and are tightly grouped and restless. Something has them upset; we don't know if it's a cougar, bears (hunters have placed bear bait there) or wolves. We haven't lost any calves yet on our range to wolves, but we realize it's only a matter of time. The introduced wolves are multiplying, rapidly expanding their territory. The ranchers north of town are continuing to have problems.
The large number of calf losses on the Diamond-Moose Creek allotments last year prompted a cooperative study (contracted through University of Idaho) to document causes of death and this spring 1/3 of the calves were ear-tagged with radio transmitters before turnout.
A graduate student monitors and locates each of the 230 calves daily and checks on any mortality signals to find the carcass and have Fish and Wildlife agents determine cause of death.
The ranchers hope the project will give some answers on calf losses and how many are wolf kills. Most losses last year came later in the season but this year, as of mid July, six of the tagged calves had died already. One was a coyote kill, one a non-predator death, the other four were wolf kills. If this is a representative sampling of the 700 calves, there are probably 12-18 total wolf kills so far (since less than 1/3 of the calves are being monitored), and that number will grow as the season progresses.
At present, ranchers can only be compensated for the carcasses actually found and proved to be wolf kills. No rancher can be with his cattle 24 hours a day when they're on summer range. The purpose of the radio tracking project is to see what is actually happening, to document wolf kills that might not otherwise be found in time for identification. The ranchers hope this study will make a case for compensation when calves disappear.
Jack Ellis, one of the ranchers involved in the project, says this type of study might make it possible in the future for ranchers to be compensated when losing calves in an allotment where wolves are known to prey on livestock. If a rancher who only lost one or two calves on the range annually before the wolves arrived is now losing 20 or 30, this type of scientific data should make it more likely that he would be paid for the calves, even if he can't always be out there in time to locate the carcasses.
Ellis feels ranchers will have to get used to the fact that they'll be "marketing" their calves through wolves - compensated for the ones eaten by these predators. The ranchers feel that if the American people want wolves and their prey base consists partially of calves, then those calves should be paid for. The only way ranchers can coexist with wolves is if they can have some guarantee that the wolves will not put them out of business.