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Predator managers hope to use bright, noisy trailer to scare off threats

A coyote forages for a meal in a field of purple wild flowers. Members of the Park County Animal Damage Management Board are building a hazing trailer as a non-lethal means of controlling predators on agricultural land in the county.
TRIBUNE PHOTO BY MARK DAVIS

 

In an effort to keep predators away from livestock, local predator managers are building a specialty trailer equipped with lights and various forms of noise makers.

The Park County Predator Management District Board’s plan to build a non-lethal means of protection against predators is being closely watched by hopeful ranchers across the state.

Solar panels will power the trailer, which will be set by timers to activate periodically during the night. Building the apparatus in the back of a trailer will allow it to be moved to fields as needed to stem losses at sheep operations around the county.

The idea has been tried on a limited basis using a privately owned trailer and has been successful in scattering coyotes. The hope is the system will force predators to seek natural forms of food, instead of feeding on livestock.

“It’s like my dad always said — if you could get me coyotes that would never eat sheep, I’d take a whole batch of them,” said Park County predator board member Shane Smith.

Even if it can’t permanently change patterns, the system will give ranchers time to call in government trappers to eliminate the problem.

“We believe its a win/win,” Smith said. “It has a huge upside.”

Losses due to predators are negatively affecting already thin profit margins, he said. Sheep producers have already seen losses due to the pandemic, as high-end restaurants that serve lamb have been closed and the wool market is down.

“Every time we lose a lamb to a coyote, it’s at least $200 down the drain,” Smith said. “We have some pretty high predation this year and sometimes they kill two a night.”

Local ranchers have tried several means of trying to control predators.

“It just becomes harder and harder to trap,” Smith said.

Trapping is problematic because it poses a threat to domestic pets — which have increased with the recent trend of farm land being subdivided into smaller parcels for residences and hobby farms.

And guard dogs, used to watch herds, can become a problem when residents take stroll with their pets past ranch land. Some ranchers have even looked into training burros to stand guard over flocks.

“Some people like predator controls and some people don’t,” said Park County trapper Monte Nicholson. “When you get your hands tied either with the airplane or traps or snares or whatever, this [trailer] is a real good deterrent to buy us some time to get to where we can get the problem fixed.”

The $10,000 cost of the trailer, solar panels, batteries, lights, radios and timers is being picked up by the Wildlife Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Park County board members will supply the labor. The idea has sparked a lot of interest in other counties, Smith said. “They think long term this is a really good idea. Either way, they’re very, very interested in this trailer.”

Brian Nesvik, co-chairman of the state Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board (ADMB) and director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said the department has had success using overnight hazing techniques in the Jackson area. They have used inflatable air dancers and other light and sound sources to scare away wolves. He likes the idea of Park County’s mobile hazing trailer.

“It sounds encouraging,” Nesvik said.

Smith said they hope to have the trailer ready sometime this month or in July.

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