On Monday, August 19 of 2013, shocking news was reported that the Pine Creek Pack of wolves was held responsible for the deaths of 176 domestic sheep the weekend prior. The reports coming out were startling, and rightfully so. It wound up becoming the largest death of sheep in Idaho’s history. Most news outlets reported that the wolves caused it and it was case closed. Consequently, 13 wolves in the pack, nine of them pups, were put to death and the pileup was left out to lure in other predators to their death as well. The incident may be true and it may not be. The fact is there is a deeper story underneath the surface that begs to be explored.
The sheep belonged to a rancher named J.C. Siddoway. In addition to a sheep rancher, he is also the son of the president of Siddoway Sheep Company, Jeff Siddoway. Jeff Siddoway is a senator of Idaho who also sits on the Environment and Resources Committee and is responsible for introducing a bill that allows live baiting to lure wolves in to be shot and killed. Both have been strongly against wolves from the start and a motive to perpetuate the fear and hatred for wolves is not a hard concept to fathom. Admittedly though, that’s not enough to vindicate the wolves just yet.
The sheep themselves certainly help the situation since they are, in fact, some of the least intelligent animals in North America. The whole act of sheep grazing requires the rancher to remove the smartest sheep because they’re the hardest to control. As a result, the ranchers are consistently breeding sheep that are not just below average intelligence for animals, but are constantly getting dumb and dumber. I don’t just say that out of disrespect, it is an unfortunate side-effect of grazing animals that are meant to be easily controlled. The intelligence for domestic sheep is incredibly low for an animal of that size. Therefore, pileups of sheep occur frequently according to Palisades District Ranger, Tracy Hollingshead: “[Pileups] happen all the time with sheep. It happens in the winter when sheep try to stay warm and they suffocate each other.” It is a very common and costly phenomenon associated with these animals. Oddly enough, however, Stan Boyd of the Idaho Woolgrowers Association stated that this was the first time he has ever heard of wolves causing a sheep pileup. It therefore could be a coincidence that this was just the first time a sheep pileup occurred from wolves, or there is still a little more to the story.
According to the story, just the week prior, wolves had killed two great pyrenees dogs that were guarding the herd. Since it is to be expected that wolves will do their best to kill other canines in their territory (including other wolves), the wolves targeting the guard dogs should not be much of a surprise. In the case of welfare-ranching, at least one mule would be a much better option, but that was not the case here. Rather, he had canines defending his herd from other canines that refuse to allow the presence of any other canine in their territory. To put it simply, dogs are simply not equipped to guard a herd against a pack of wolves. As far as the wolf pack was concerned, there were other canines on their territory thereby posing a threat to their pups. It all comes down to self-defense for the wolves.
Likewise, Siddoway also revealed that in just the week prior, he had lost two great pyrenees to wolves, a lesson he should eventually learn from rather than repeating the same mistake over and over again and then finding a scapegoat. This is especially true with a guard dog that is known for being slow to learn new commands, obey, and even stubborn to train. In this incident, he had three with the herd, all of which managed to escape this attack completely unharmed. Similarly, people have also reported that great pyrenees dogs do not solve their problems right away, but can sometimes cause new ones. Many people have reported that their guard dogs, great pyrenees especially, have turned on their stock, whether it was chickens, sheep, or goats, should they not be fed adequately or trained properly. Often, since welfare-ranching is so cheap, many ranchers can be a bit less protective given that it is not a large investment. Therefore, the odds of these dogs turning on the sheep, especially if they happened to be new to the herd after replacing the other two, is not very far-fetched at all. In fact it is highly recommended that great pyrenees are socialized with the herd for quite some time before becoming truly effective, though as mentioned, dogs vs wolves is simply not a recommended encounter. They may do the trick against coyotes, but wolves are a completely different animal.
Another questionable claim by Siddoway is that he said that the supposed attack occurred at 1 a.m. where within minutes, 7% of the herd was dead. The only reason this seems questionable is because the land he is grazing on is not exactly a rural backyard. He has over 2,000 sheep grazing on an enormous area of public land that spans a number of hills and even mountains. For him to be watching this take place at one o’clock in the morning is highly unlikely. Given that it is public land, there most likely are not even any residences on the property to have witnessed it out their window. The only way he could have witnessed it is if he had actually driven out there in the middle of the night and just would have happened to have been in the exact location it was all happening.
So, did the wolves start a sheep pileup for the first time? Maybe, but which is more likely? Two wolves caused the largest sheep pileup in Idaho history, only to partially eat one of them, or wolves were simply the scapegoat to make the gray wolf look bad to a population that is slowly but surely realizing that wolves are an essential component to their ecosystem. Short-term, monetary goals are the only factor in keeping wolves from reestablishing their historical range, providing a healthier ecosystem across the entire country. Stories like these on a smaller scale happen repeatedly throughout the area, perpetuating an unnecessary and ancient myth of fear and hatred toward an animal that is more loyal to its family than most humans. The worst part is that it is our own politicians exacerbating this fear and hatred, politicians that well-meaning people put their faith and trust in to inform them of the right thing to do. Many citizens look to their politicians for honest information and are fed exaggerated stories of evil animals ruining people’s ways of life, when instead, they could be simply informing them of easy ways to live with said predators. As I have been saying, I personally do not care if you love or hate wolves, but learning to live with them in either case is exponentially easier than continuing to try and fight them. I think it’s about time both sides ask their politicians for education rather than fear.