The first reported attack by wolves on domestic sheep in the Wood River Valley occurred last week when one sheep was killed in the Baker Creek allotment north of Ketchum.
After examining the more recently killed sheep and animal tracks in the area, Rick Williamson of U.S. Wildlife Services confirmed that the sheep, which was found Friday morning, died from wolf depredation. It was one of 3,000 that belong to longtime sheep operator John Faulkner, who will be financially compensated for the loss by Defenders of Wildlife. The environmental organization's Wood River Wolf Project works with sheep operators to prevent predator attacks in the hope that sheep and wolves can co-exist.
According to Cindi Hillemeyer, one of three field assistants with the project, the wolves that attacked were not collared. As a result, Project Manager Jesse Timberlake, who was sleeping with Faulkner's sheep Thursday night, did not get a radio signal on his telemetry receiver. Telemetry uses an antenna to pick up the frequency from the wolves' radio collars, giving the field assistants a general idea for where the wolves are relative to the sheep.
No one was certain which wolf pack was responsible for the depredation. However, field assistants and foremen for Faulkner's herd believe it was most likely the Phantom Hill pack.
"They maintain a big territory," Hillemeyer said. "It is more than likely the Phantom Hill pack, as they are raising their pups just a mile from here."
Last summer a number of wolves belonging to the pack were collared, but a few, including one pup from last year, at least one of the pups from this year and an alpha female, remain uncollared.
According to wolf advocates and sheepherders, the loss of a sheep to predators in the wild is common, and the loss of just one sheep is actually a rarity.
"Sheep operators do lose animals on a regular basis to predators like bears, coyotes, mountain lions and wolves," said Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson. "So this (recent incident) is not a huge deal in terms of numbers."
Earlier this month, according to Todd Grimm, district supervisor for Wildlife Services, 34 sheep were killed by wolves in the Cape Horn area west of Stanley.
According to Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, Faulkner's herd lost 12 sheep to wolves in the Baker Creek allotment last August.
"It is really remarkable because we have had a lot of chronic sheep loss in the past," Stone said. "We were expecting to have some losses, but so far losses have been reduced dramatically."
John Etchart, head foreman for Faulkner's flock, agreed.
"It has been pretty good since they (field assistants for the Wood River Wolf Project) have been here," Etchart said. "The wolves haven't touched us until now."