LISTEN TO THE AUDIO VERSION

Butternut – The landscape near Butternut is a rural quilt of forests and fields.

Typical of this region of northern Wisconsin, you can find a tamarind swamp and gray wolf track and a plot of forage corn within a mile of a beef cattle operation.

Unsurprisingly, the mix has made the area a hotspot for conflict between wildlife and livestock producers.

That’s why there’s a unique installation on Paul and Judy Canick’s Sheep Farm, just south of Butternut: a predator-proof fence.

According to Department of Natural Resources records, Canick Farm has been hit by wolf poaching of sheep and guard dogs at least four times since 2015.

In separate incidents in 2015, Canik lost two of his 180-pound Spanish Mastiff guard dogs.

And in 2016 wolves killed 17 of their feral sheep and in 2019 killed 31 katadin lambs and five sheep.

David Ruid, a supervisory wildlife biologist with the US Department of Agriculture APHIS Wildlife Services, said the usual wire fencing and predator deterrents such as fladry (hounds on lines) and guard dogs were not able to protect the sheep.

So Ruid and Brad Koele, DNR wildlife damage specialists, sat down to figure out a new path for Canick Farms in 2019.

Since wolves were protected under the federal Endangered Species Act at the time, only non-lethal means could be considered.

Humans have a long history of trying to keep their animals safe.

Indigenous peoples around the world have arranged brush or other material around their camps and animals as a protective barrier for centuries.

A wolf-proof structure (a 6-foot-high board fence) was proposed in the Cape Cod area in 1717, but failed due to complaints from neighbors, according to a 1944 book, which told the wolves to “shut up on them.” “Didn’t want to. Wolves of North America.”

In 1908 the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Forest Service studied the effectiveness of fencing around 2,560 acres of pasture in the Wallowa National Forest in Oregon. This showed that the structure reduced looting from coyotes but not from black and brown bears.

Even in the 21st century, much remains to be done to conserve livestock.

Farmers and ranchers understand very well that the four varieties of wire are designed to keep livestock on a property, not to keep predators out. Nevertheless, this type of wire fencing is often found on the perimeter of Wisconsin farms.

And non-lethal methods such as flamedry, lights, scare wire and radio may work on wolves for some time but are not permanent solutions, Ruid said.

So in 2019 Ruid and Koelle designed the best physical structure they could realistically place on Canick Farm.

It is a wire fence that is 74 inches high (too high for a wolf to jump over) and has small nets pointed toward the ground to prevent smaller predators such as coyotes or foxes from squeezing.

And perhaps most importantly, it has a 42-inch apron that extends to the ground outside the perimeter. This prevents wolves and other animals from burrowing under the fence.

The fence was installed in spring 2020 on about 25 acres of pasture at Canick Farms.

result? Not a single sheep or lamb has been lost to poachers in the past 20 months. There are about 250 sheep in the barn this winter.

“We’re sleeping through the night now,” said Paul Canick.

After years of struggling with the Wolves, the Canix didn’t know what to expect from the project.

“But I knew that if we didn’t do anything else, we were going to lose our sheep,” Canick said. “And I wasn’t ready to do that.”

Ruid and Koelle also set up a spooky radio, which plays music at night from a speaker at the edge of the field.

However, Canick said the fence is the key to preventing the loss of their livestock.

The Butternut installation of this predator-proof fence is a first in the Midwest, Ruid said.

Despite its success, it is not a realistic solution to all livestock theft.

Fences are expensive to install, about $8 per linear foot. Most beef and dairy operations in Wisconsin’s Wolf Range would cover two miles to encompass.

And it cannot be installed around every pasture, especially in wet or extremely uneven terrain.

Canick Farm’s fence costs $35,000; This was paid for with a congressional allocation to the USDA Wildlife Services for Non-lethal Predator Eradication.

The agency receives $60,000 a year for this kind of work in Wisconsin, Ruid said.

Ruid and Koele have had “feelers” for other suitable sites for their predator-proof fence designs.

“You put your resources where they will do best,” Ruid said.

The new fence is not the cure for most conflicts between wolves and livestock producers. But it does provide a new tool that can be used in certain situations.

And in a hot area of ​​wolf debate, it is a shining example of federal and state wildlife managers working to find a solution to an age-old problem.

This is something we should all encourage. Who knows what technologies will be available to protect livestock and wolves in the future?

via Wolves kept out of Wisconsin sheep farm by new predator-proof fence | Darik Wisconsin News