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Wolves spook sheep into 'pile-up' in the Boise Foothills, 143 die

Two grey wolves in a meadow.
File photo

Two wolves spooked a herd of grazing sheep in the Boise foothills on May 11, leading to 143 deaths in a ‘pile-up.’

“What was unusual is that they attacked these sheep in the middle of the day. That almost never happens,” said Steve Steubner, Rangeland Resources Commission spokesman.

The ewes and lambs trying to flee the wolves jumped into a deep gully and couldn’t get out.

“[The wolves] didn’t consume anything,” Rancher Frank Shirts said in a press release from the IRRC. “The sheep just suffocated in the pileup and died. We work to make things good for those sheep every day, so it’s a shame to lose them.”

Pile-ups are not uncommon according to Wildlife Services and are typically caused by wolves or bears.

The two human herders monitoring the flock of several thousand sheep scared the wolves away. A pair of Great Pyrenees guardian dogs, the mere presence of which usually keeps predators away, did not engage the wolves. Stuebner explained that’s fairly normal.

“The older livestock guard dogs, if they’ve got experience dealing with wolves, they aren’t going to try to take on a wolf, because they know that would be the end,” he said.

Idaho Fish and Game says it visited the site of the incident near Shaw Mountain north of Boise and confirmed a pair of wolf tracks. The agency authorized Wildlife Services to track and terminate the wolves, but they were never found. The kill order expired at the end of May.

“This sadly exemplifies why wolf management in Idaho can be so challenging,” Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever said in an agency press release. “People cherish the Foothills for its diversity of wildlife, along with the opportunities for grazing, recreation and other activities.”

The killed sheep had been among thousands crossing highway 55 in Eagle earlier this year. They graze in the foothills en route to their summer range near Idaho City.

Depredation issues lead to between five and 14 wolves being removed from the Foothills each year, according to state Fish and Game.

Shirts plans to request depredation compensation to cover his losses, the largest single wolf incident he’s experienced since the mid-1990s when the animals were reintroduced to Idaho.

Lawmakers last year instituted new regulations aimed at drastically reducing the state’s wolf population, a move supported by ranchers. The law would allow around 90% of the existing wolf population to be exterminated.

Data provided by Idaho Fish and Game show 130 wolves killed by sportsmen since January 1, and another 31 killed by Wildlife Services following depredation incidents.

Fish and Game estimates there are about 1,600 wolves in Idaho each spring after pups are born. That number drops to around 900 in the winter due to hunting.

In 2021, 437 wolves were harvested by hunters, and 43 were killed by Wildlife Services.

Rapid changes in the market and inflationary pressures prevented officials from offering even a range of potential value for the loss. “What they’re worth today might be totally different than what they’d be worth later this year,” Wildlife Services Idaho Director Jared Hedelius said.

For now, it’s back to business as usual, Stuebner said. “[Ranchers] are doing the best they can with the tools they have.”