The wolf-cattle study has added insight into how cattle use a range area. John Williams, Oregon State University Extension, says data from collared cows have helped answer some resource management questions, including how cattle spend time in a riparian area.

collared cow“We’re now collaring more than 80 cattle each year [10 from each study site] and have four years of data. Each study site gives us close to a half-million data points.” he says.

Several graduate students have done masters’ theses on cattle use patterns in riparian areas. “One looked at how much time cattle spend in a riparian area, and found that regardless of where they are on various ranges, cattle spend less than 3% of their time within five meters of the streams,” says Williams.

Another graduate student looked at what cows do while in a riparian pasture. “We put one-second collars on cattle to see how much time they spend eating, lounging, and how much total time they spend within five meters of the creek — and where they cross the creek. They picked about three spots where they go down to the water to drink, and then go back out,” he says.

Data from these studies indicate that range cattle are using riparian areas far less than traditional literature suggests. They generally come in to get a drink and move back to the uplands. If they spend any time near the stream, it’s generally up on the stream terrace and not in the riparian zone, Williams says.

Wolf threat to humans

When wolf numbers are controlled, wolves tend to stay farther back in the high country, says Anderson, manager of the OX Ranch near Council, ID. “When they’re protected, they lose their fear of humans.”

His wife found wolf tracks in fresh snow less than 50 ft. from their house. “We’ve had wolves lie on the county road in the snow at night, next to the corrals, watching cattle under a light at the end of the barn,” he says.
Data from the collared wolf show how close these wolves are coming to homes and human activity. “We have several houses here on the ranch. The collared wolf came within 500 yards of one house 307 times that summer,” Anderson says.

The pack of 12 came within 300 yards of the ranch lodge, and spent all day there. “The people who take care of the lodge have three little boys. The wolves were right above the county road in a little clump of timber, watching the lodge. The collared wolf was there with them, in what we call a ‘rendezvous site.’ ”

A rendezvous site is where wolves park their pups with a baby-sitter wolf while the pack hunts. Dave Ausband, a University of Montana wildlife researcher, has developed a wolf rendezvous prediction-site model. From that, he created a wolf rendezvous site map for the state of Idaho.

“These rendezvous sites anchor the distribution patterns of the entire pack to specific points,” says Clark, a range scientist with USDA’s Northwest Watershed Research Center in Boise, ID.

“Out of curiosity, we plotted our wolf GPS data and our cattle GPS data from one of our Idaho study areas onto Ausband’s map, and found the clusters of concentrated wolf location data lined up with areas predicted on the map as high-quality wolf rendezvous-site habitat,” he says. He says the map and model could help predict where wolf-use patterns and cattle-use patterns frequently overlap.

Wolf rendezvous sites tend to be in grassy areas close to water — not necessarily riparian areas, but meadows without much overhead cover. These areas also happen to be good foraging areas for cattle.

Heather Smith Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer in Salmon, ID.


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