A recent tragedy in Sun Valley brings to light how serious the wolf debate has become!
Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Steve Alder, Idaho For Wildlife
Please Support House Bill 470
The real cost of wolves!
The JR Luna Azul Story, a Sun Valley Tragedy!
JR Luna Azul, killed by a single wolf 2-13-14
Idaho documented wolf packs in 2013. Officials believe this may represent only about 50% of Idaho wolves!
Following is a tragic report of a recent colt that was killed (2-13-2014) by a single wolf near Sun Valley. As you know many Idaho ranchers are suffering similar experiences but their stories don’t get told. The owners of this colt took every precaution imaginable to mitigate this wolf attack. Ironically, in January of 2010, this couple testified in Boise at the IDFG public testimony hearing. In this 2010 recording, Mr. Swigert delivers one of the most heartfelt, moving testimonies of the challenges they were facing in Sun Valley due to wolves. Mr. Swigert also describes in this 4 year old recording the many types of infrastructure deterrents they were implementing to keep wolves away from their valuable livestock and dogs. They even own a pet coyote that they use to alarm them when wolves are near. The following is their written history with supporting photos of the extreme measures they took to protect their valuable livestock and pets from wolves. Even with all of these wolf deterrent systems in place, a single wolf was able penetrate there protective barriers and change their lives forever. A colt that’s loss cannot be measured in a dollar value to the owners. To the rest of us that didn’t raise and fall in love with this little colt we know something is wrong when we realize the colt was worth almost half of the total dollars allocated for wolf control in Idaho for 2013! This is why HB 470 must be passed! Idaho is losing millions every year to livestock and elk predation from wolves and this does not include the pain and suffering by 5th generation Idahoans like the Swigerts.
The Tragedy of loosing JR Luna Azul
On Thursday February 13, 2014, JR Luna Azul was killed by a single wolf. In the grand scheme of things the death of a seven month old colt probably does not amount to much but in our lives it was the inglorious culmination of 12 years of fighting to protect our dogs, horses, sheep, goats and ourselves from the insidious assault by an ever-present predator.
We are Kevin and Jennifer Swigert and we live at the end of Croy Creek canyon just seven miles from Hailey, Idaho. Kevin is a fifth generation Idaho native from Blaine and Custer Counties. We have raised horses for nearly thirty years around central Idaho from Stanley to Mackay and finally back to the Wood River Valley where we have been for the past 13 years. We also raise, train and vendor Bloodhounds to law enforcement, the military and search & rescue through our company Longstride Bloodhounds. We focus all our efforts and resources on our animals and have developed what many consider to be state of the art defenses against the depredation of wolves. We use stallions to protect the mares and foals, we use Akbash guard dogs and even have a ten year old pet coyote that is indispensible as an early warning that wolves are near and require vigilance.
Over the years we have had hundreds of encounters with wolves ranging from dog attacks to being charged by aggressive dominant alpha males while out training the tracking dogs. We have lost two mares to wolf activity when they panicked and injured themselves on fencing and icy winter ground. Always we considered ourselves to be well prepared and that the results of all these encounters where as good as could be expected. That has been the case until the last few weeks.
JR Luna Azul was the last stud colt from a stallion that can only be described as a once in a lifetime friend. April Fools Luna Azul was a ground breaking horse. Not only was he a superlative sire of many outstanding horses he was also the first horse to ever carry the POW/MIA Flag in a parade. After Bowe Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan, permission was obtained through the Pentagon for the Wagon Days Parade to be the venue for the first ever display of this flag from horseback. The Army even sent a special drummer to accompany Azul through the parade route. Azul died in July of 2013 from a rattle snake bite to the chest. JR Luna Azul was born a few days later and from the first few days it was obvious he was exactly like his sire. Our intention was to raise JR as Azul’s replacement. We now have no replacement for this magnificent horse.
January of this year started out bad in our area. On January 13 we received a call from a close friend that a hunting dog had been killed by wolves just a couple of miles from our home and his advice was to be very careful. Our usual training ground is the canyon behind our ranch as the road is a dead end and receives little traffic making for a great area to work the dogs and keep them in top shape. We refrained from using the area for a week till the danger had passed, as wolves will generally move on without a good prey base. When we again started using the canyon it was obvious there was still a presence of wolves. The four juvenile females reported to us were still around but gave the dogs a pretty wide birth. Each day that the dogs were worked got more intense and on the sixth day they ambushed the dogs.
Jennifer was alone training the dogs. There was the usual group of twelve seasoned male bloodhounds along with three cadaver labs, two Irish Wolfhounds we use as sight hounds and three Border Collies. The four wolves ambushed the dogs only a few feet from Jennifer and she fired her AR-15 several times to scare them off. They managed to bite a Border Collie on the back and they ran off a three year old well trained Bloodhound male. The Border Collie was taken to the vet for emergency treatment along with a Rabies update and eventually recovered from the bites to her back. The Bloodhound was gone all night and returned at first light unscathed. We considered ourselves fortunate that nothing worse had happened but we did contact Idaho F&G and had a conservation officer look over the scene. He was surprised at the proximity to Jennifer (under 100 feet) where the wolves attacked the dogs. The behavior of these wolves was decidedly different from our experience. Hazing has always been effective in scaring them off. These wolves seemed to be attracted to the gunfire and accelerated their position over the course of a week till they ambushed Jennifer and her dogs. We have resolved to avoid the canyon till the situation is safer.
A few days after the attack on Jennifer we heard there had been a couple of wolves harvested by hunters and we began to breath a bit easier. We had requested a “shoot-on-sight” permit from the F&G to protect our animals but this was denied. Normally we have regular permits but the fact that in the Wood River Valley the permit holder information gets found out and in the interest of avoiding confrontation with pro-wolf individuals and groups we opted to rely on the 10J rules to protect our property. When off our property we would rely on hazing the wolves till we could make a retreat. We always carry weapons when out training the dogs as we have vast experience with posturing wolves.
Things seemed to be getting back to some sense of normal as we had heard the wolves were mating in Deer Creek and would probably not be venturing into Croy Creek for at least a few weeks. Then on the morning of February 13th we discovered JR Luna Azul. The field we keep the young horses in is about a mile from our home and to give them as much protection as possible we have a stallion and four very savy mares in with the young horses. We also have two Akbash guard dogs penned next to the barn where the horses can take refuge amongst a solid barrier of fences and barn walls with constantly burning lights. The deep snow we received the week before was limiting the movement of all the animals and in spite of the efforts by the stallion to protect JR a single wolf got the colt isolated against an outer fence just 100 feet from the barn and disemboweled him. Leaving a few choice mouthfuls of fur behind from the stallion the wolf left JR to bleed out with his intestines strung out across the ground.
In all the years of dealing with wolves and working hard to limit their ability to get close to the horses and dogs, we have never seen a single wolf be so bold as to attempt an attack like this. The track was not overly large, perhaps just a two year old, and from our experience this behavior is a major and very unwelcome change.
Croy Creek Canyon has been an active wolf environment for many years and the disappearance of the wintering elk and deer attest to the impact. During the winter of 2001 we lost a stallion when he had an unfortunate encounter with a wintering bull elk. We had three very large bulls spend the winter in our pasture and the hills surrounding our place were populated by perhaps two hundred elk. This winter, 2014, we have no elk or deer and have not seen any for a few years. We occasionally have one pass through but that has become far less frequent. The wolf population has increased every year and as the prey base disappears the only source of sustenance for wolves are coyotes, magpies, livestock and pets. We as responsible livestock owners have always felt it was better to create our own defenses than to rely on the efforts of other less reliable resources. The vigilance required to keep our animals safe is non-stop and all consuming. The ability to stay ahead of the hazard seems to be coming to an end. There is far less of a prey base for the wolves and they are getting more aggressive and more plentiful. It appears that we may not be horse breeders any longer.
Kevin & Jennifer Swigert
JR Luna Azul
JR Luna Azul
Happy, the 10 year old coyote, (Left). Happy’s role is to warn them of approaching wolves. The
Jen training her blood hounds in wolf country carrying an AR-15 for protection
Akbash Guard Dogs to Protect the horses. Swigerts use 8 of them for protection!
Corral where colt was killed
Little Bit, the Stallion that tried to protect the colt. He got a few mouthfuls of black hair as he attacked the
wolf that killed the colt. Little Bit’s mother was Peppy Sana Hickory purchased from actor Bruce Willis. Bruce
sold her to the Swigerts after she bit him on the back and tore his shirt. He made them a great deal!
Jenny at the Sun Valley 4th of July Parade with JR Luna Azul's sire
Jenny moving John Faulkner’s sheep with Luna Azul
JR. Luna Azultimeline killed by a single wolf, 2-13-14 (Before Necropsy)
JR. Luna after the necropsy performed by USDA Wildlife Services
I am attaching the email from Wildlife Service’s confirming that the horse was killed by a wolf (wolves). I am also cc’ing Todd Grimm with Wildlife Services. I have no reason to believe it was not a wolf or wolves as there has been a group of 3 or 4 in the area.
Yesterday, WS confirmed that wolves killed a young horse on private land about 1 mile East of Red Elephant Gulch on the South side of the road. Our aircrew has seen wolves in this general vicinity for several weeks.
Idaho Wildlife Services
What is the real cost of wolves in Idaho?
In 2008, a study revealed that Idaho was losing up to $24 million annually in hunting revenue due to wolves killing deer and elk. This $24 million did not include livestock and pet losses, let alone the threat of diseases spread by wolves. The study also estimates that a single elk harvested by hunters provides a value of $8,000 and elk killed by wolves are valued at $750.00. Since 2008, elk numbers have continued to drastically decline in areas of high wolf density.
Following are elk harvest graphs and maps of the hunting zones near Sun Valley. Click here to see other elk harvest graphs throughout Idaho to fully understand the damage caused by wolves.
Sun Valley Area Elk Harvest Data Graphs from 1989-2012
Smokey Mountains zone