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  • Writer's pictureCat Urbigkit

Campaign Trail Diary: Predator Problems

Throughout the campaign, I’ll be doing a series of posts about what’s going on behind the scenes. Shorter posts will appear on the campaign Facebook page, while longer stories will be added to this blog. Please subscribe to the website to receive updates, and follow along on Facebook as well.

A normal person getting ready to announce their candidacy for political office would probably have spent the day before their campaign announcement polishing their website, making plans, and continuing to make calls to community leaders and friends – which is what I intended to do. But that’s not how it worked out.


During the morning ranch check we found both an adult ewe and a yearling ram limping and with wool hanging from fresh wounds on their hind ends: Predator attack. Then I saw the eagles on the ground, leading us to an adult ewe that had been killed by a predator. 


Jim and I hurried around the ranch checking all the critters, putting a tarp over the kill, checking game cameras and looking for tracks. There was conflicting evidence at the kill site as to the species responsible, so we conferred with more experienced friends, read through some research about interpreting evidence, and consulted specialists over the phone before issuing calls to agencies to come out and have a look because we couldn’t be sure. 


We had to know what species was responsible for the depredation before we could figure out how to respond. But in a predator-rich environment such as this one, there was evidence of at least two predator species on a single kill – if not three. The first specialist was just as conflicted as we were (so at least I didn’t feel like a complete idiot) and suggested we bring in the animal damage specialist we routinely work with to have a look and to see if he could make a determination. The other specialist wouldn’t be available until for another day, so we were in a maintenance mode until then, but we had managed to eliminate mountain lions from the list of potential perpetrators.


Since our night pen was soggy from the spring thaw and we didn’t want to bed the sheep flock in there and get their beautiful fine wool dirty just a few weeks away from shearing, we baited our huge yard with hay and locked the sheep inside with their livestock guardian dogs and guardian burro. For now, the sheep can graze out during the day with their guardians but will have to be night penned. With one dead sheep and two others wounded, we're leery of an escalation in attacks on our pregnant ewe flock. 


I fell into bed about 9 p.m. but was up again at 2:30 on Friday morning to finish and launch the campaign website and send out a press release announcing my candidacy – doing much of the work I thought I would be doing the day before. 


By a little after 8 a.m., I was already tired when a reporter called for an interview about my running for office. Thankfully the interview was fairly short and as soon as I hung up, Jim and I headed up the drainage behind the house to check on another game camera. We found photos of a badger, a moose, a fox, a bobcat, a coyote, two wolves, and plenty of elk and mule deer. 


Yeah, wolves, both with blood on their muzzles.

When the animal damage control specialist arrived Saturday morning to assess our depredation problem, he worked through a process of elimination while evaluating the physical evidence (such as the size of the bite marks), concluding the attack was probably by wolves. We’re hoping the injured ram survives, but I’m very doubtful that he will. I think the injured ewe should be okay but it’s too early to tell. I’ve been hopeful before in such cases, only to have an animal die much later from infection.

We decided to bump up our predator monitoring efforts for a while to see if the wolves remain in our area or move on. If they remain, we’ll try working to get a radio collar on one of them. We live in the predator zone for wolves, where they can be taken at any time, but we try to leave them alone so long as they aren’t killing livestock. Still, the threat to the sheep flock is real as we prepare for lambing season.

I’m guessing that there aren’t many folks simultaneously running for elected office while dealing with large carnivore depredations. Well, except for my good friend Representative Albert Sommers, from this district. He knows what it's like.

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