"The question is, would there be added value if all the participants were interested in continuing?" said Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson.
One of those participants is the U.S. Forest Service, which has worked with ranchers, advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to develop the project.
The project is composed of a series of non-lethal methods designed to minimize wolf depredations on sheep. While the study was originally planned for three years, the partners must decide whether the project's successes have been worth the high cost of materials and field staff.
Suzanne Stone, spokeswoman for the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, argues that the project has been a success. Out of the 30,000 sheep the project had grazing on public lands during the three years of the project, it lost only 14.
"[Before the project began] we lost that many easily in a night on many occasions," Stone said. "Wolves killed more sheep than any other type of livestock, and sheep on public lands are the most difficult to protect."
Many ranchers in the area, including Lava Lake Ranch, hold grazing permits on public land. Lava Lake sheep graze on more than 730,000 acres of allotments that range among the Boulder and Pioneer mountains as well as on the Snake River Plain.
Parts of those areas were at one time prime wolf habitat. Control actions and last year's public hunt have reduced wolf numbers slightly, Stone said, but the project still lost one sheep to depredation over the summer, proving a continued need for the project's preventive measures.
"We know we had wolves nearby," Stone said. "But there were not frequent encounters."
Stone was hesitant to ascribe the project's success to any particular method, saying the methods vary widely depending on the situation.
"It's not easy to just say, 'this works,'" she said.
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