Aug. 12, 2009
By Joyce Campbell
“I saw it twice and I really think it’s a wolf,” said Michelle Mondot, who learned the hard way that protecting her chickens from predators starts with prevention, not with scaring them off.
She went out to do chicken chores on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 2, and found eight dead birds and six more missing. She saw the back half of a large dark grey canine with a fluffy tail disappearing into the brushy hillside behind her Libby Creek home.
“He or she left, and I saw it again Sunday night because I was keeping an eye on everything,” said Mondot. She went out in the dark with a flashlight and stick around 9:30 p.m. and yelled, screamed and beat the stick on the ground and the animal took off after about 10 seconds. So long, she said, that she realized the animal was not afraid.
She got a .30-30 rifle and shot into the hill past her house and has not seen the predator again. “I think I’ve scared it off, at least for now,” she said.
State wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin is skeptical that the predator was a wolf.
“The fact that the animal appeared unafraid, I’m more skeptical that it was a wolf,” said Fitkin. “The fact that she went out and yelled and banged things, it’s not characteristic of wolves, who seem skittish. We’ve not ruled out it being a wolf,” he said. “We have no evidence except her eyewitness, but we are looking for more information.”
He sent two wildlife field technicians to set up a remote sensor camera at the site, but no photos of a wolf or any other canid have been captured. Radio telemetry was used for several days and showed that the radio-collared adults in the Lookout Pack were not present. A compost pile at the site contained the remains of butchered chickens, an attractant for carnivores.
Fitkin said being surrounded by public land and wildlife is a little different than having a chicken coop in town. Chances are greater for attracting predators looking for a meal.
“We’ve got the top predator of the West here and we need to know how to secure our livestock,” said Mondot. She said she felt responsible that her setup was only minimally secure. She had become lax over the years, chasing off one golden eagle and a weasel or raccoon, but felt unprepared for wolves.
She was instructed by the wildlife field biologist to bury attractants – any meat and scraps that are not vegetation. She wants to make sure her chickens are wolf-secure, but doesn’t know exactly what that means. She has covered plastic netting with chicken wire on her portable coops.
Fitkin said that wolves and cougars are easier to keep out, but bear-proofing is the most difficult predator prevention, because of their agile, dexterous and extremely strong front paws.
“We can co-exist, but we need to modify our behavior,” said Mondot. She said people need to not be attracting, feeding or being nice to the wolves. “I want them to be afraid. This is not part of their hunting territory. They can have all the rest.”
For more information on preventing wildlife conflicts with livestock and pets, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website on living with wildlife at www.wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living. The state’s draft gray wolf conservation and management plan has a section on preventing conflicts and is available atwww.wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/diversty/soc/gray_wolf.
A film and panel discussion on predators will be presented Sept. 16 at the Twisp River Pub. The Lords of Nature: Life in a Land of Great Predators is a new film on wolves and other top predators and will be presented in the Methow Valley by Conservation Northwest.