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Tools to Resolve Conflicts

How can proactive and reactive tools be used to reduce conflicts with wolves and increase opportunities to coexist?

When we think about the tools we can use to reduce or resolve conflicts with wolves, there are two types to pick from. Reactive tools are used after a conflict happens. One example is killing a wolf after it kills livestock. Proactive tools try to prevent conflict from happening in the first place. These tools, put in place before a conflict can happen, include guardian dogs, range riders, removal of carcasses, and special fencing.

Though both types of tool are useful, non-lethal proactive tools can protect both livestock and wolves from injury or death. That makes them the best option when the goal is coexistence. 

Let’s look at the different tools in each category, and think about why proactive tools can be more effective for encouraging coexistence.

Reactive Tools

(AFTER conflict happens)
  • Killing wolves
  • Relocating wolves
  • Compensating ranchers for livestock losses

Proactive Tools

(BEFORE a conflict to prevent it from happening)
  • Regulated wolf hunting seasons
  • Fencing
  • Fladry (red flags on fence wire)
  • Light and sound devices
  • Livestock guardian dogs
  • Herders and range riders
  • Modify livestock management during vulnerable periods (e.g. calving or lambing seasons)
  • Remove carcasses
  • Payment to ranchers to coexist with wolves

Reactive Tools

A conflict happened. How do you deal with it? 

  • Remove the problem by killing wolves?
  • Remove the problem by relocating wolves?
  • Compensate the person for losses caused by wolves?
  • Do nothing?

So what kind of tools are considered reactive when managing conflict with wolves? Remember that this category is looking at tools that are used after a conflict has already occurred. The most well-known reactive tool – killing wolves – can be effective if the wolf who harmed the sheep or cattle is correctly targeted. It’s intriguing to note that there is disagreement between wolf scientists over whether this lethal tool creates more problems than it solves. In some cases the wolf pack’s ability to hunt effectively is thrown into disarray when a pack member is killed. The result? The wolves search out easier prey to hunt, which is more likely to be livestock. Killing a targeted wolf might also have only a temporary effect before the conflict returns. 

A second reactive tool is relocating wolves to areas farther away from where the conflict happened. A third tool that is used after wolves kill cattle or sheep is compensating the ranchers for their loss. Difficulties with this tool include the process for ranchers to prove their animal was killed by wolves, the high monetary cost of compensation and the lack of funding for this program, and little incentive to prevent the conflict from happening.

Proactive Tools

Stop the conflict before it happens! 

Proactive tools are essential for coexistence. They try to prevent conflicts from even happening by changing the behavior of livestock, wolves, and/or people. Tools like fences can physically separate wolves and livestock. Encouraging cattle and sheep to relearn their instinctual defensive behaviors can help reinforce other proactive tools. A variety of tools like fladry and guardian dogs can be used to keep wolves away by being scary or presenting something unfamiliar. Other tools, like removing livestock carcasses and regulating hunting, focus more on altering human behavior.

Separating with physical barriers

Permanent or temporary fencing can be an effective tool to reduce the chances of wolves getting close to livestock. Permanent fencing is most effective for smaller pastures. The fence needs to be sturdy, tall enough that wolves can’t jump over it, and free of any gaps a wolf could slip through.

Modifying livestock behavior

Relearn instinctive defensive behavior

Cattle have all the instincts they need to protect themselves from predators, but have forgotten many of them since domestication. Ranchers and range riders are working to help livestock relearn these instincts, such as grouping up around calves when predators are near.

Modifying Wolf Behavior

Fladry (red flags on fence wire)

Fladry is fence wire with red strips of cloth or plastic attached to it at regular intervals. By adding something new and different to the wolves' environment, this type of fencing is meant to make the animals cautious and uncertain of getting close. Fladry can be made even more effective if the fence wire is electrified.

Light and sound devices

There are a variety of automated and manual devices that create lights and sounds meant to scare away wolves. While effective right away, wolves can become used to these deterrents, making them less effective the longer they are in use.

Livestock guardian dogs

Guardian dogs have been used around the world for centuries to protect livestock. Sometimes the mere presence of guard dogs will deter wolves, and in some cases the dogs take a more active role in fighting off wolves or alerting range riders.

Herders and range riders

Range riders and herders spend their time on horseback actively managing livestock herds. They can help encourage livestock to practice defensive behaviors like grouping up around their young. Human presence can also be effective at deterring wolves.

Modifying Human Behavior

Regulated wolf hunting seasons

In states where wolves are not a protected species, there may be specified hunting seasons for wolves.

Remove Carcasses

Wolves have a keen sense of smell, and will be attracted to dead or dying livestock. Removing these attractants or making them more challenging to get to will reduce wolf conflict.

Payment to ranchers to coexist with wolves

In some places in the western US, ranchers and others who may be impacted by wolf presence have been paid to coexist with wolves. These payments are different from payments a rancher might receive for livestock killed by wolves.

Modify Livestock Management

Moving livestock to a different area during vulnerable periods (e.g. calving or lambing seasons) can help to reduce wolf conflict. These relocations could be temporary during these vulnerable periods, or permanent.

educator note

Driving Question: How can proactive and reactive tools be used to reduce conflicts with wolves and increase opportunities to coexist?

What we do on this page: 

  1. Describe the differences between reactive and proactive tools for reducing conflict.
  2. Read and watch videos to compare specific tools and practices.
  3. Identify which tools are lethal and non-lethal to wolves.

What we figure out:  

  1. Reactive tools are used after the conflict happens, while proactive tools try to stop the conflict before it happens.
  2. Tools can be lethal or non-lethal to the wolf.
  3. Proactive tools can reduce conflict by
    • Separating with a physical barrier
    • Modifying livestock behavior
    • Modifying wolf behavior
    • Modifying human behavior

Additional resources and ideas: 

  1. Encourage students to watch the videos and read the articles on this page.
  2. If living in a ranching community or state, students could interview a rancher, or read local articles to compare what is said with what they learn on this page.