Livestock Protection Dog Task Force focuses on public education
The American Sheep Industry Association’s (ASI) Livestock Protection Dog Task Force has tackled one of the industry’s biggest public grazing conflicts, and that’s the one between livestock protection dogs and recreationists on public lands.
“Education of the public is a big deal,” says ASI Executive Vice President Peter Orwick, adding the task force has been in conversations with the BLM and Forest Service. “The agencies liked our signage and the public brochures that USDA has approved for us, and we just put those on our website last week.”
“I thought the BLM in particular was very responsive and supportive of our efforts to get more education and management recommendations out there. They liked the idea of signage and brochures to make people aware,” he adds.
Orwick says the task force went to the federal agencies for approval, since the signs will be posted on federal ground. “It’s taken a little longer, but that way they’re approved to be out, and people ought to be happy with them, and we won’t create any additional problems with homemade signs.”
The Livestock Protection Dog Task Force is composed of around a dozen members, scattered throughout the West and a few from eastern states. “Those people back there have issues where they feel guard dogs can be as beneficial as they are out here,” says task force member and Wyoming Wool Growers Association President Gene Hardy.
The language is now publicly available online, and the physical materials will soon be ordered. “If someone wanted to make something right now, they could pull that language, otherwise we expect the actual signs will be ready this fall for sale to the growers,” says Orwick.
“We’re trying to do a better job educating the public, especially in those areas that have high recreational use, as well as livestock use,” says Hardy. “We find that a lot more in the mountain permits and the places closer to urban development than a lot of us do here in the West, but that’s where the people need to be educated, because that’s where we’re encountering more conflict with LPDs.”
Hardy says the term “livestock protection dogs,” or “LDPs,” has been found to be a little more receptive to the public than “guard dog,” which conjures up menacing images of mean dogs.
The initial order of the materials includes some 5,000 brochures and several hundred signs. “We’ll have sheep coming out of the forest shortly, so for this season they won’t help much, but we’ll see how much interest we get, and put together another order if need be,” says Orwick.
“One thing we found is that sheep producers are just as passionate about what they believe works best or is most effective with dogs as they are with their sheep,” says Orwick of the task force process. “They’re vocal on what works and what doesn’t.”
“One thing of which we reminded the BLM is that avoiding conflicts with recreational users is definitely part of our goal, but having an effective dog for predator is equally as important,” notes Orwick. “We found that producers in areas dealing primarily with coyotes have a different set of management strategies than producers who use the dogs in wolf and bear country, and the dogs are different, too. They’re dealing with different pressures and need different animals to get it done.”
Orwick says the signs will go where the sheep herds are. “If there’s a trail going through a band of sheep, the producer will put the sign on the trail. In other areas they’ll drag the sign along with them and put it up at the most likely spot someone will drive or ride through and they’ll pick them up and move as the sheep and camps move.”
Hardy adds the signs will also be posted at popular hiking and picnic locations, as well as some trailheads, to advise people that the lands are, indeed, multiple-use for recreation and also for livestock, and that they may encounter LPDs.
Idaho has already begun using similar signs, as well as some operators in Colorado. “They’re getting more common, and we’ve had quite a few growers call this summer hoping we had them,” says Orwick.
Following the signage and brochures, Orwick says the task force is working to follow up with recreational magazines to further educate backcountry users, like mountain biking publications.
“We’re trying to see if we can get some information in print out in their periodicals to help get some more management education,” says Orwick. “That would include basic strategies, like if you can’t get to where you’re going without going through sheep, get off and walk your bike 100 yards.”
Another project regarding LPDs is a video compiled by the Colorado Wool Growers and Wyoming Wool Growers and sent to National Geographic’s Cesar Milan, who hosts the Dog Whisperer show.
“They want to see if he’d want to do some work with protection dogs, for both how to manage and how to train the dogs so operators have some things they can do with their dogs, or should avoid doing,” says Orwick.
Hardy adds that the goal would be to train the dogs that humans are not the enemy, and train the humans to realize the dogs are there for a purpose and to not antagonize them, intentionally or unintentionally.
Also, this winter the ASI Board of Directors will receive the latest draft of guard dog management recommendations developed by the task force. After two rounds of input from the industry, Orwick thinks they’ve got all the recommendations, and the Board of Directors will have the option to adopt the document.
For more information on ASI’s work, the Guard Dog Task Force or the public education effort, visit sheepusa.org. Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.