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Turbo Fladry Helps Ranchers, Protects Wolves

Written by Pam Manns

Not far from the rocky peaks of Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, wildlife professionals with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services program unspooled miles of bright, red fladry.

Fladry is nylon flags attached to a poly wire and looks a bit like something you would see at a used-car lot, rather than a cattle ranch. However, it is one of the nonlethal tools that Wildlife Services uses to prevent wolves from preying on cattle.

Once unraveled, the fladry is clipped to fiberglass fence posts that are placed around the circumference of the more than 100-acre pasture. The fladry fence rises just above an adult human’s knees and about even with a curious wolf’s nose.

The highly visible flags flutter and flap in the wind, and solar-powered electric fence chargers are installed at various points around the fence to charge the wire with electricity. When the wire is electrified, it becomes turbo fladry.

  “Wolves are naturally nervous of new elements in their environment, and they will stay away until they realize the fluttering flags are not a threat,” said Mike Foster, Wildlife Services’ Wyoming state director. “However, if they get too close and touch the fence, they get a shock.”  

Since wolves were reintroduced into the Northern Rockies in the mid-1990s, their populations have increased substantially in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, sometimes resulting in livestock predation. In Wyoming, wolves are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and their populations are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). When wolves prey on cattle and create conflicts for ranchers, FWS works with Wildlife Services to target and remove specific, problematic wolves.

Recently, Wildlife Services partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to install fladry on several pastures in Montana. Last fall, NRDC provided money and manpower to help with the installation of fladry on the ranch in Jackson Hole, which had been experiencing wolf depredation.

Zack Strong, the NRDC wildlife advocate who assisted with the project, added, “Fladry works well in the right situations. Working with ranchers and Wildlife Services to set up turbo fladry in Montana and Wyoming has been extremely rewarding, and we would welcome the opportunity to do so in other states, as well.”

The fladry was in place for about three weeks before it was taken down and the calves removed from the ranch. Radio collars from some of the wolves in the nearby pack indicated that the wolves may have left that area, and while the turbo fladry was in place, no calves were lost to depredation.

“There is no one thing we can do to prevent the loss of livestock in every situation,” said Foster. “I had high hopes for this project, and I am so glad we were able to prevent more losses on this ranch.”