Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Protecting livestock from wolf packs with nonlethal (and colorful) means

Fladry is a preventive strategy that consists of decorating the perimeter of a livestock enclosure with flapping, bright-colored plastic streamers.

Oregon has proven that livestock can be protected from wolves by means other than killing the animals.

From Oregon comes a hopeful little success story about raising cattle in wolf country, wherein ranchers are protecting their herds with colorfully nonlethal alternatives to trapping and shooting.

Article continues after advertisement

From the AP science writer Jeff Barnard, as published over the weekend in the Christian Science Monitor:

As long as wolves have been making their comeback, biologists and ranchers have had a decidedly Old West option for dealing with those that develop a taste for beef: Shoot to kill. But for the past year, Oregon has been a “wolf-safe” zone, with ranchers turning to more modern, nonlethal ways to protect livestock.

While the number of wolves roaming the state has gone up, livestock kills haven’t — and now conservation groups are hoping Oregon can serve as a model for other Western states working to return the predator to the wild.

Leading the list of those techniques appears to be the practice of fladry, an apparently antiquarian word but a new one to me. It would seem to be pronounced kind of like “philandery” without the N. Sometimes it’s written as flaggery.

Anyway, it’s a preventive strategy that consists of decorating the perimeter of a livestock enclosure with flapping, bright-colored plastic streamers that hang like socks from a clothesline. Except for being about four feet off the ground, in the photos I saw, they look rather like the pennant streamers our species uses to attract roaming packs of consumers to a new gift shop, filling station or takeout pizzeria.

Fladry is a preventive strategy that consists of decorating the perimeter of a livestock enclosure with flapping, bright-colored plastic streamers that hang like socks from a clothesline.

To Canis lupus, however, fladry is a proven and powerful repellent.

A 2003 research paper published in the journal Conservation Biology documented fladry’s effectiveness as a barrier to both tame and wild wolves, and in areas where high livestock losses indicated that wolves weren’t intimidated by human proximity alone.

A range of repellents

In Oregon, ranchers often use the streamers with other means, like electrified fences and motion-detecting alarm systems that greet approaching wolves with bright lights and  recorded gunshots.

Of course Oregon’s wolf population is much smaller than ours — perhaps 46 at the end of last year. But it’s also growing fast, up from 29 a year earlier. And while the confirmed livestock losses of a dozen or so per year are small in absolute terms, they would scale up to 800 animals a year in Minnesota if this state’s 3,000 wolves were taking livestock at the same rate.

Minnesota’s new trapping and hunting seasons are often justified as a response to livestock predation. But there is widespread skepticism that farmers with wolf problems can count on much benefit from these, driven as they are by sport and trophy-seeking rather than by geographically focused removal of the problem wolves.

Whether solely nonlethal means can be sufficient is debatable, too, but some Minnesota farmers are using alarms, guard dogs, even donkeys, and there doesn’t seem to be anything about fladry that would make it inherently unsuitable or ineffective here. And the price might be appealing — 19 cents per meter of fenceline, according to the 2003 study.

(By the way, the main impact of Oregon’s “no-kill” policy, which has been in effect since September 2011, was to halt trapping of wolves by government agents as an anti-predation measure. There, as here, farmers and ranchers can legally shoot wolves to protect livestock, but sport hunting and trapping remain illegal.)

Pollinators under pressure

Just happened to note an interesting conference taking place on March 16, a Saturday, at Mankato State University. Sponsored by The Prairie Enthusiasts, a nonprofit based in Madison, Wis., its central theme is “Pollinators: Future of our Food & Native Plant Communities.”

The colony collapse disorder afflicting honeybee populations is just one example of ecological disturbances threatening not only the fruit and vegetable crops that form a large portion of the human diet, but also the stability of many other native plants and plant communities, prairie and other.

Lots of subjects on this agenda, including a workshop on planting and maintaining a patch of urban prairie, monitoring wildlife impacts of wind farms and — today’s personal favorite — an opportunity to “view nearly all the native orchids of MN.”

In photographs, I think they mean, but still … . More program and registration info here.

Lake Superior as scrapyard

Finally, I want to point to rather an amazing story that turned up over the weekend in the Duluth News Tribune, about a decision in 1959 by our U.S. Army to save the $1,299 cost of a new crushing machine by choosing instead to dump more than 1,400 barrels of cluster bombs into Lake Superior: 

The bombs were made at the Twin Cities Army Ammunitions Plant by Honeywell, then based in Minneapolis, and the Army didn’t want any recognizable bomb parts to fall into the wrong hands. The Army and Honeywell tried incinerating and then “tumbling’’ the bomb parts into barrels to smash them. But neither process worked fast or well, and scrap parts were stacking up in the warehouse.

A Sept. 17, 1959, Honeywell memo to Army officials said efforts to use tumbling barrels to smash the bomb parts wasn’t effective. But it suggested a new option, purchasing a so-called hammermill as the cheapest, most efficient way to render the bomb parts unrecognizable.

The scrap that is available could all be salvaged in two weeks and with the present shortage of raw material this would be to everyone’s advantage,” wrote a B. Brooks of Honeywell.

But the Army appeared to ignore the hammermill idea, criticizing tumbling as too expensive and slow. Instead, Honeywell was ordered to dump the barrels into Lake Superior as quickly as possible.

So far, public agencies have spent nearly $4 million to retrieve just 25 of the barrels and test their contents,. Most have included intact explosive charges.

Honeywell may never live down the infamy of its association with these especially gruesome, indiscriminate weapons — land mines from above, really — but in this episode they’re wearing the white hats. The company urged responsible destruction of the bombs (and recycling of some valuable metals in them), only to be overruled by the Pentagon.

This is an almost unbelievable tale, solidly reported and gracefully spun by John Myers, who points out that it’s actually just one example among many of the military treating our greatest lake as a bottomless dump.