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Wolves blamed for death of 143 lambs and sheep near Shaw Mountain

"The wolves scared the hell out of them and pushed them into that little canyon and piled them in there. They didn't consume anything."

BOISE, Idaho — Two adult wolves caused a sheep pile-up in a steep gully near Shaw Mountain, killing 143 sheep, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

According to the sheep herder, the wolves scared the sheep which caused them to panic and flee in an effort to escape, running into a steep gully where they crushed or suffocated each other.  

In an interview with the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission, Frank Shirts, a rancher and owner of Wilder Sheep, said the wolf attack happened during the day, which is rare. Shirts said the wolves caused the deaths of 143 sheep, which is the worst sheep loss he has ever had.

Wildlife Services staff searched the area and found two sets of wolf tracks near the location of the incident. Officials confirmed that the wolves caused the pile-up. 

The sheep were part of a band of about 2,500 ewes and lambs that crossed Idaho State Highway 55 in Eagle this March, to graze in the Boise Foothills, before following the green up to higher pastures.

Shirts said his sheep herders saw two wolves running into the band of sheep, and then watched as the animals fell to their death in the steep gully.

"The wolves scared the hell out of them and pushed them into that little canyon and piled them in there," Shirts said. "They didn't consume anything. 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."

To cover the cost of the sheep predation, Shirts said he would apply for compensation funds. 

IDFG officials said they authorized Wildlife Services to take over control of the Boise River Wildlife Management Area, which includes the Shaw Mountain area, through the end of May. That order is now expired. 

While the Foothills are close to Idaho’s largest metropolitan area, it is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including deer, elk, moose, pronghorn, bears, mountain lions, wolves and coyotes.

Herds have grazed in the Boise Foothills for more than a century, but wolves also frequent the area. This has led to recurring incidents of livestock being preyed upon by wolves, further contributing to livestock deaths, according to IDFG.

“This sadly exemplifies why wolf management in Idaho can be so challenging,” Ed Schriever, Fish and Game Director, said. “People cherish the Foothills for its diversity of wildlife, along with the opportunities for grazing, recreation and other activities. In this instance, a pair of wolves caused a significant loss of sheep for a rancher, and despite our efforts as a department to reduce or prevent this, it can still occur, and we regret that rancher Frank Shirts and his herders had to deal with this loss.”

Two of Shirts' sheep herders were able to chase off the two wolves, according to officials. There were also two Great Pyrenees guard dogs that were watching the herd, but they ran for cover and were not injured, according to Shirts.

Idaho State Director, Jared Hedelius, said an agent from USDA APHIS Wildlife Services was sent to the site to confirm the kill. The area was surveyed by helicopter to look for other wolves that may be in the area; after searching for several days, Hedelius says there were no wolves found.

IDFG officials say they are unsure whether the wolves were dispersing from a pack or whether a wolf pack is operating in the Shaw Mountain area.  

"We just felt that the public needs to know these kinds of things are happening up there in the Boise Front," Emmett sheep rancher and board president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, John Peterson, said.

Wolves are removed annually from the Foothills by Wildlife Services, and can number anywhere from 5 to 14 taken out per year. IDFG and the Idaho Legislature have also loosened restrictions in recent years to allow for wolf hunting and trapping in order to reduce conflicts in areas with higher livestock depredations.

The Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board works in conjunction with IDFG and USDA APHIS Wildlife Services in addressing wolf and livestock conflicts that are occurring on a persistent basis. 

The Board, IDFG and Wildlife Services also work to address the levels of gray wolf predation in elk management zones using predation management plans, or where ungulate populations are below objectives.

Gray wolves were first imported from Canada and released into Central Idaho in 1995. Idaho has the most wolves in the Rocky Mountain West, with the population sitting at about 1,500 animals.

Since July 1, 2021, hunters have killed 184 wolves statewide and trappers have taken 214 wolves. Wildlife Services took another 38 wolves that were reported to be involved in livestock depredations.

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