ROSEBURG, Ore. — Alyssa Mahaney has a toolbox full of non-lethal methods and strategies that she wants to share with livestock producers in hopes of reducing conflicts between predators and ranch animals.
Mahaney is the new conflict prevention specialist with USDA Wildlife Services for southwestern Oregon. She began her new job in early October.
In a collaborative effort, funding for the position is being provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council and by the wolf advisory committees in Klamath and Jackson counties.
“My mission is to protect agriculture, and human health and safety, through non-lethal wildlife conservation efforts,” said Mahaney, a 32-year-old with a wildlife management degree. She will complete her master’s degree in sustainable management of natural resources in mid-December.
She did an internship in Maine, tagging, collaring and monitoring bears, and worked for Wildlife Services in Pennsylvania. She moved to Grants Pass, Ore., a year ago to be closer to family in that town and in Roseburg.
“I think everything has a place on this earth, including wolves,” Mahaney said. “I would just like to do everything possible to mediate conflict so everybody can co-exist. I feel strongly about protecting both sides, conserving both livestock and wildlife.”
There have been wolf-cattle conflicts in the past couple of years in both Jackson and Klamath counties with confirmed fatalities of yearling calves by the Rogue wolfpack. The Indigo group of wolves, with a recent litter of four pups, has been confirmed in Douglas County.
“This position is something I’ve been pushing for,” said Paul Wolf, the southwest district supervisor for Wildlife Services. “Because wolves are moving westward, I’m trying to get out front of them by trying to take a proactive approach to help cattle producers in my district.
“When producers start having predator issues, we have to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to lessen the impact,” he added. “We’re always trying to think outside the box, we’re constantly trying new things.”
Shawn Cantrell, the vice president for field conservation for Defenders of Wildlife, said his organization “is excited to help Wildlife Services pursue non-lethal tools.”
“Historically, Wildlife Services uses lethal as its primary tool, so we’re excited about this approach,” he said.
Mahaney’s toolbox includes turbo fladry, electric fencing, pyrotechnics (fireworks), strobe lights, air-filled tube characters, guard dogs, removing bone piles, range riding, husbandry practices and human presence.
Mahaney spent the first two weeks at her new job in Montana, shadowing and learning from a conflict specialist and a seasonal range rider who have been involved in conflict prevention in that state for the past three years. She also attended a co-existence summit.
Jennifer Sherry, a wildlife advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the model for the conflict prevention specialist was started in Montana. She said there’s been a growing interest in that state in people asking for and wanting to implement the non-lethal methods in order to protect their cattle, goats or chickens from wildlife predators.
“We developed a partnership of people who were interested in trying to increase the use of non-lethal tools,” Sherry said. “Multiple groups can support this approach even though they might not agree on everything. The goal is to help producers implement the tools to help prevent losses for all parties.”
Sherry explained it is hard to gather exact data on the success of the prevention program in Montana. She said there have been cases where after multiple years of predation in an area, fladry was installed and livestock losses dropped to zero.
“That’s pretty compelling,” Sherry said. “We’ve had cameras show wolves walking the fladry line, but not crossing. Some of the carnivores are still there, but there were no losses.”
She admitted that there were ranchers who weren’t enthused by the prevention approach, but with the specialist on the ground and meeting the producers face-to-face, it was easier to get them to “give it a try and see what happens.”
“After a year with no cattle losses, minds change and there is more willingness to use these tools,” Sherry said.
Cantrell said Defenders of Wildlife has been a partner in funding the specialists in Montana since the program was established three years ago.
“The key is Wildlife Services is able to reach the ranchers and other livestock producers who are interested in reducing conflicts with wolves and grizzly bears,” he said. “These ranchers trust Wildlife Services. They don’t know Defenders of Wildlife. It’s working to have a trusted voice like Wildlife Services suggest some tools and strategies to help protect l ivestock.
“Every landscape is different, every livestock producer runs a different operation, but it’s the approach to have a trusted voice in the rural agricultural community, Wildlife Services, bringing the message that here are some tools to reduce conflicts with wildlife,” Cantrell said.
Elizabeth Willy, a senior wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the wolf coordinator for the Klamath Basin and all of California, is pleased to have Mahaney on the job in southwestern Oregon. Willy’s region has had predator issues with wolves preying on cattle in the Wood River Valley north of Upper Klamath Lake.
“Wolves are here, they are part of the landscape now,” Willy said. “The addition of Alyssa in her role really helps us provide another resource for a proactive approach. It helps us be on the ground sooner and to be more effective in prevention.
“Alyssa has a tremendous outdoorsy background,” Willy added. “She’ll have the ability to build and maintain relationships with landowners at a different level than an agency. Hopefully with her help, future predations can be minimized.”
Sherry said in addition to Oregon, Idaho and Minnesota have inquired about Montana’s success with prevention specialists.
Cantrell said Defenders of Wildlife is advocating for federal funding for conflict prevention specialists in nine western states and three Great Lakes area states. He said there are two bills currently being discussed in Congress that would provide funding.
“We’re hopeful, but it’s a process,” Cantrell said of the congressional system. “The program in Montana has certainly caught the attention of other Wildlife Services directors. It was a pilot effort in Montana, now it’s in Oregon. This is an approach where we feel we can help wildlife, livestock producers and rural communities.”
Mahaney will provide quarterly reports on her activities involving the prevention of wildlife/livestock conflicts.