2019 articles posted with permission from Hells Canyon Journal
Multinational Summit Tackles Coexistence Between Humans and Wildlife
by Gail Kimberling
Panhandle ranchers Shella and Barry DelCurto were among nearly 100 attendees at the 2019 Human-Wildlife Coexistence Summit held October 22-25 at Chico Hot Springs in Pray, Montana.
Among just a handful of producers at the summit, the DelCurtos rubbed elbows with scientists, researchers and representatives from government and non-government agencies from around the globe.
And the DelCurtos, who have lost multiple calves to wolves in the last two years, definitely put Halfway on the map.
“They didn’t ask us to speak but everyone put together a little slide presentation,” Barry said. “Shella did one and it was amazing the amount of people that looked at that and they came out of their way to find us and sit down and visit.”
“Mine was real graphic,” Shella added. “They wanted to hear what we had going on on our side.”
In turn, the DelCurtos learned they are not the only ones whose livelihoods are threatened by efforts to protect endangered species.
In Florida, officials are working to keep nearly-extinct black panthers away from cattle producers and people and busy highways, while in Arizona the endangered Mexican gray wolf is the source of both conservation and conflict.
Wolves are also an issue in Israel, and in Australia dingoes are a huge threat to sheep.
Black footed ferrets, a threatened species in the Midwest, rely on prairie dogs for existence and prairie dogs “are death on cattle,” Shella said.
The DelCurtos also discovered more help was available than they realized.
“There are some similarities and variations. It was mostly talking about how people were trying to learn to deal with and learn to live with different species,” Barry said. “We met a lot of people and realized there are people out there to help us. It was educational on that part.”
Shella added, “The biggest thing is agency folks are working hard with producers and landowners. The consensus of everyone was they wanted to work with us and it gave us hope. They are out there not looking to do away with us as producers, they really want to help us.”
For instance, Shella said Midwest ranchers and agency officials have worked together to preserve areas for prairie dogs while also maintaining grassland for ranchers in order to ensure the survival rate of black footed ferrets.
Barry added Craig Miller from the Defenders of Wildlife “visited with us a lot about their problem (with Mexican gray wolves) down in Arizona and our problem up here and how they
are working with producers down there and trying different things. It was a lot of different ideas and different situations and how they are trying to coexist with wildlife and endangered species.”
“Most of it is what we’re doing here – fladry, human presence and the biggest, how you graze your cattle – but they are getting a lot more help,” Shella said.
“They were amazed at our fladry fence last spring,” Barry said about the special electric fence with red flagging the DelCurtos installed around their 40-acre calving pasture. “They said, ‘You guys didn’t get any help to do that?’ No, we didn’t. That’s just something we did. The fence was supplied to us so we went out and did it ourselves, that’s just what you do. They told us there are people out there who will come out and help you put it up. We were kind of astounded at that part. They were acting like we had done something way out of the ordinary.”
“We’re trying to find ways right now to fence our entire property. It’s $20,000 a mile and you can’t afford it. But we met tons of resources at this thing so maybe we can get some help to build a fence,” Shella commented.
Goals, Strategies and Tangible Steps
The goal of the multi-day summit was “to establish a community of practice for coexistence that advances coexistence to benefit wildlife and people.”
Objectives were: Provide a platform for networking and peer-to-peer learning; generate new ideas to overcome current challenges to coexistence efforts; identify social and pragmatic best practices for achieving sustainable and resilient coexistence; devise collective goals, strategies and tangible steps forward for the group; and explore all areas of potential future collaboration between participants.
Summit participants attended every session together, and Barry noted, “There were so many people there, but they kept things moving. We were kept pretty busy, even when we had breaks people would come up to us and want to talk.”
“There was so much that went on you were on overload. There was no down time,” Shella said, adding, “There will be working groups that come out of this and they will eventually come up with a paper.
“They were talking policy and I told them there isn’t a producer alive who likes the word ‘policy.’ I said we have enough of that shoved down our throats and I suggested something like ‘guidelines’ instead.”
Another stickler was the term ‘coexistence,’ and Shella explained, “They wondered if they really wanted to stay with that name or call it something else. But we were all there to try to figure out how humans can survive – coexist – with other wildlife.”
Shella continued, “The working document will help give people ideas. They are going to try to come up with a quick book on funding sources of what’s out there and available. There is so much we don’t know about people that can help you. I had no clue about a lot of these people we talked with; you don’t know they exist or who to ask. This gave us a great resource.”
Participants included “a lot of young people with big titles behind their names” and many with PhDs, according to Shella.
“I read the bios on everyone there and it was interesting,” she said. “Some of them were researchers like Julie Young, a PhD with the USDA National Wildlife Research Center. We talked a lot and she is going to send some links to papers I can read. One thing we brought up is all these research papers are fine and good but most are above the normal person to understand. I told her you need to come out with something for the laymen so we can get something out of what you compiled that might help us.”
Barry added several researchers are interested in coming and/or sending grad students and interns to Halfway to learn more about the wolf situation in Northeast Oregon.
“Several of them want to do this next spring so we will probably have some visitors in the area,” Barry commented.
Rules, Regulations and Funding
Defenders of Wildlife, the Washington, D.C.-based organization that sponsored the summit, “has been really good with us, helping us with workshops and wanting our opinions,” Shella continued. “They now understand if you have to make a lethal take as a last resort, but let’s try all this other stuff first.”
The DelCurtos said this attitude shift originally caused the organization to lose some funding, but they have since bounced back with the help of other sources.
“When they have annual fund raisers they have to explain a lot of this stuff and be careful how they explain it,” Barry said, and Shella added the same is true for many governmental agencies and NGOs.
“They all have rules and regulations they have to live by if they want to keep their public funding. They have to walk a fine line,” Shella stated.
As for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Shella said, “Regardless of what people think or feel about them around here I never got the feeling that anyone is trying to hide anything. We were complimentary to [Oregon] fish and game at the summit as they have just bent over backwards for us … these guys around here have done nothing but try to help as much as they can.”
“People just need to wake up and realize it’s [the wolf issue] not going away,” Barry said, while adding the summit gave him and Shella hope – something they’ve been lacking since wolves turned up in Pine Valley two years ago.
“There are people out there who are on our side, who want to help,” Barry said.
“Whether government agency folks or NGOs, they all have a vested interest in trying to make this work for everybody,” Shella added. “That was huge. Time and again they all said they want to make this work for everybody. It’s idealistic and there are challenges, but they are trying to see their way around them and look ahead. We discussed how you don’t just throw wolves out there and tell people to be flexible, that maybe things have to change and be different.
“The biggest thing is there are a lot of resources out there, and they are not against us as producers,” Shella said. “Yes, they want to bring wildlife back and I’m learning the balance of nature is more than we thought it was.
“It brought reality back to us to know we’re not the only ones. The ‘woe is me’ is gone. We’re sad for our situation but there are other people out there and they have way bigger problems than we do.”
Living With Wolves Is A Fact of Life for Barry and Shella DelCurto
by Gail Kimberling
“People just need to wake up. It’s not going away.”
Those sentiments were expressed recently by Pine Valley rancher Barry DelCurto who, in spite of every effort, has suffered multiple depredations by wolves from the Pine Creek Pack.
“We began having problems in 2018,” Shella DelCurto said.
That was shortly after the pack’s breeding male, OR50, formerly of the Harl Butte Pack, joined a breeding female, OR36, in Baker County. OR50 replaced a previous breeding male, OR29.
In early 2018 the Pine Creek Pack numbered eight wolves – the breeding pair, five yearlings fathered by OR29, and one other adult wolf. OR36 was also pregnant and expected to den up in the spring. The den just happened to be adjacent to the allotment where the DelCurtos turn out their cow-calf pairs.
In less than three weeks, from April 6-18, eight depredations were attributed to the Pine Creek Pack including __ calves belonging to the DelCurtos.
Although Oregon Fish and Wildlife officials removed three wolves from the pack through lethal methods, the DelCurtos decided they were not going to sit back and watch and wait.
Through Defenders of Wildlife, a nationwide organization promoting coexistence with predators, they attended a “Ranching with Wolves” workshop in Montana and later hosted similar workshops in Halfway and Klamath Falls.
When spring of 2019 rolled around, the DelCurtos installed fladry – a special type of wolfresistant fencing – around their calving acreage. Then they turned out their cow-calf pairs around the first of April, as usual. Within days the wolves struck again, this time injuring a calf so badly the calf had to be euthanized. Less than a month later, another calf was also lost.
“Our depredations took place when no one was on the range,” Shella said. “On two different days we were short on manpower and that’s when they hit us. That tells me the biggest thing [for deterrence] is human presence.”
This involves range riding and camping with the herd, also teaching the herd to use tighter grazing techniques.
“It’s tiring and the stress is wearing. You don’t sleep at night listening to the telemetry unit. But we’re thankful for the collars on the wolves, otherwise we would have no idea when they are on us,” Shella commented.
Barry and Shella shared their experiences with other attendees at the recent 2019 HumanWildlife Coexistence Summit sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife. The multi-day summit took place at Chico Hot Springs in Pray, Montana and featured nearly 100 participants from around the world.
“In our working groups we discussed what works and what doesn’t work, what did you try and didn’t try,” Shella said.
Among other methods, Shella said, “They did talk about why are we using hunting to balance wildlife when wildlife can balance itself if you have all the right species.”
Mainly, the DelCurtos learned they are not alone in their struggle and there are a myriad of resources available if one knows where to look.
Pine Valley Wolves
The DelCurtos are already considering these resources as they look ahead to their next calving season.
“We’re wondering what the [Pine Creek Pack] wolves are going to do next spring, especially since they were so out of sync this year,” Shella remarked. “They have not followed suit all summer and even split up for a while. He [OR50] stayed up in the high country above Fish Lake and she [OR36] went across the Imnaha to the other side. They are now back together again but fish and game never got them in camera range to see if they had pups or if the pups survived.”
Brian Ratliff, wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Baker City, confirmed the situation.
“It did appear they denned, then they dispersed,” Ratliff said, adding, “We recently flew and saw the two collared wolves together and four other wolves were seen with them but we don’t know if they are new pups.”
Another Pine Valley pair, OR57 and OR68, (dubbed “Valentine and Valentino” by Shella, because of when they got together) have definitely produced pups. Ratliff said OR57 was previously with the Pine Creek Pack while OR68 dispersed from another area.
“They did den up and had three black pups and one gray pup. But at the end of September only two black pups and one gray pup were seen on the West Wall,” Ratliff said, and he added that for OR57 and OR68 to officially be considered a “breeding pair” their pups must survive until the end of December.
And while there are no other known wolves present in the Halfway area, Ratliff said there are two more groups of wolves between the Pine Creek Pack and Catherine Creek Pack to the west, which are the Keating Group and a group that includes OR75.
The wolves will follow deer and elk throughout the winter, and then it’s anyone’s guess where they will hang out in the spring.
“Until the wolves decide where they are going to den up we’re kind of in limbo and that’s what makes it so challenging,” Shella said. “They have more than one den site, and there are also rendezvous sites and gathering sites. We don’t even know for sure how many there are until the snow flies.
“We already had a meeting with the forest service and explained next year we may need some allotment changes because where we have to run we can’t control the cattle at all,” Shella
continued. “This past year we couldn’t turn out and we had to keep the cattle home, managing pastures. Maybe next year we’ll turn out a week or two later or go to the other side, or maybe the wolves will go on by.”
Shella explained the territorial predators rarely cross paths and cattle might just be safe in the “free zone” between packs/pairs.
“The sad part is people say just go kill them off but if we do that, then what happens is we [Eastern Oregon] drop down to Level 2 [in the Wolf Plan] and we can’t legally do a take and we’ve gone backwards,” Shella said. “Right now we can actually defend ourselves, but you try not to do that unless you absolutely have to.
“If we kill this pack off who knows what will take its place. It might be something worse than we’ve already got and that is the consensus from different organizations and the people we’ve talked to at these meetings.”
Improperly disposed of carcasses is another cause for concern for the DelCurtos, as decomposing animals are a huge attraction for wolves.
“We need to figure out and address the issue of dead bodies,” Shella remarked. “Maybe we could get some kind of federal, state or local funding to build an incinerator, to put one here and one in Baker or wherever the wolf problems are. It would help take care of the bone pile problem, especially because there are still so many people unwilling to bury their dead.”
Admitting it’s not easy for ranchers to change habits, Barry said, “It was a hard deal for us in some ways. We always just hauled them off to brush piles because it was easy.”
“You’d just let the coyotes and the birds take care of them but now you can’t,” Shella added.
Looking for even more solutions to predator issues, Shella agreed to serve on a wolf committee, one of several working groups formed during the Human-Wildlife Coexistence Summit. She’s also been approached by a rancher from central Oregon about hosting a Ranching with Wolves workshop in that area.
“They don’t have real problems yet but she wanted to be proactive,” Shella said. “People tend to sit around until it hits them. That’s what we did here. We knew Joseph had problems but the wolves never came this way for years and years.
“I’m not saying we would have been any better prepared, but we had to hit the ground running after it hit us,” Shella continued. “We went looking for answers and that’s what got us on this route. There will be more things coming out of it.”