Wallowa County cattle rancher Karl Patton started giving nonlethal methods a try in 2010, after he fired off his pistol to chase off a pack of wolves in a pasture filled with cows and newborn calves. State wildlife officials provided him with an alarm that erupts with bright lights and the sound of gunshots when a wolf bearing a radio-tracking collar treads near. He also staked out fladry fencing at calving time. The long strings of red plastic flags flutter in the wind to scare away wolves. The flags fly from an electrically charged wire that gives off a jolt to predators that dare touch it.
The rancher put 7,000 miles on his ATV spending more time with his herd, and cleaned up old carcasses that put the scent of meat on the wind. And state wildlife officials text him nightly, advising whether a wolf with a satellite GPS tracking collar is nearby.
"None of this stuff is a sure cure," said Patton, who worries the fladry will lose its effectiveness once wolves become accustomed to it. Such measures also can't be used in open range.
Seen as a scourge on the landscape, wolves were nearly wiped out across the Lower 48 by the 1930s. In 1995, the federal government sponsored the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. They eventually spread to Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and California.
With wolf numbers approaching 1,800, the federal government dropped Endangered Species Act protection in 2011 in the Northern Rockies, eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, and turned over recovery management to the states.
While ranchers are not happy with the wolf comeback, the wider public is. A 2011 survey for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife found 74.5 percent of Washington residents believe it acceptable for wolves to recolonize their state.