|Certification Program being Developed for Livestock Protection Dogs
By RON DAINES
(March 1, 2010) The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) recognizes that livestock protection dogs have the potential for conflict near grazing lands, and it’s taking steps to mitigate problems by developing a dog certification program.
Bonnie Brown, Colorado Wool Growers Association executive director, and Bryce Reece, Wyoming Wool Growers Association executive vice president, have been working on a certification program since an incident in Colorado a year-and-a-half ago. A biker was bitten by a livestock protection dog (LPD) and sued the owner, a Colorado sheep producer. Other human-dog conflicts, in Wyoming and Utah, have raised red flags as well.
During the Livestock Protection Dog Taskforce meeting in Nashville, Brown and Reece described the recent chain of events and steps being taken.
In January 2009, Brown and Reece met with Forest Service range leaders, who said LPDs were at risk of being used on Forest Service lands. Three outcomes were anticipated for use on grazing allotments: 1. Federal agencies develop their own mandatory regulations for the use of LPDs on grazing allotments; 2. Federal agencies completely eliminate the use of LPDs on grazing allotments; or 3. ASI takes a proactive management position and adopts a stringent LPD certification program that sets high industry standards for the use of LPDs with the intent to effectively manage and maintain the use of LPDs on federal grazing allotments.
The sheep industry, noting range producers’ concern about staying in business without the dogs, asked for time to come up with a plan. Discussions began at the ASI convention last year in San Diego.
In December 2009, ASI President Glen Fisher sent a letter to every U.S. Forest Service region and state Bureau of Land Management directors regarding the development of an ASI LPD certification program which encourages sheep producers using LPDs to adhere to best management practices that optimize the use of LPDs while minimizing potential conflicts with recreational users of federal lands. In addition, it was stated in the letter that ASI strongly encourages permittees to more intensely manage their LPDs to help avoid any potential conflicts.
In addition, ASI requested that the Forest Service and BLM implement formal policy changes prior to the 2010 field season. One being that agencies develop a formal process to notify permittees at least two weeks in advance of a permitted, organized event or work project that will occur on or near the permittee’s grazing allotment. This will allow time for a plan of action to minimize or eliminate any contact between the event or project and the sheep and the LPD. Another is that agencies consider the use of temporary closure orders to limit recreational use in specific areas.
What’s evolved is a plan for a LPD certification program to encourage sheep producers using LPDs to adhere to BMPs that optimize the use of these dogs while minimizing potential conflicts with neighbors and recreational users of federal lands.
“We envision this as a voluntary program,” said Reece. “But if it becomes a reality, it may become a mandatory program if you graze on federal lands.”
Brown and Reece identified six key areas of focus for LPD owners under the certification plan.
Legal. Learn about vaccination rules, state and local laws on dog ownership and the liability of dog owners involved in conflicts with humans, domestic animals and wildlife.
Health management. Be sure to have proof of a current rabies vaccination and dog identification with a collar and identification tag, microchip, tattoo or ear tag. Dogs without proof of rabies vaccination will likely be put down or quarantined. If a person bitten must go through rabies shots, the dog owner pays. Make sure dogs have adequate food and water at all times. “These are big dogs. If they’re hungry, they’ll eat,” said Reece.
Training and management. An LPD that shows aggressive behavior toward humans or restrained dogs will not be allowed on federal lands. The dogs must be socialized to people and trained so that vehicles, ATVs, hikers and bikers do not appear to pose a threat to sheep. And dogs should never be left behind. A missing dog should be found within 24 hours.
Herder education. Herders should be provided with LPD information brochures that include dog owner name, contact information and rabies certification that can be given to concerned people. It is also helpful to post signs at trailheads or other recreation points near grazing.
Agency cooperation. Temporary land closures may be needed to limit recreation use at potential times of conflict. LPDs and bikes seem to be a real problem. And producers should work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to keep predators under control.
To address the concerns of the sheep producers in the eastern part of the United States, Reece explained that there will likely be two components to the program, one being a general program area which will apply to anyone using LPDs and who want to be a part of the certification program, and a second ‘endorsement’ specifically for those producers using LPDs on federal lands. In addition, the ASI Board of Directors approved $7,500 for development of signage and brochures to educate the public about LPDs.
Copies of the proposed certification program can be found on the ASI Web site, www.sheepusa.org, and the taskforce is looking for input from producers.
“I don’t think that choosing to do nothing is an option,” said Brown.
Mike Marlow, a wildlife biologist appointed last May to fill a new position as resource management specialist with USDA’s Wildlife Services in Ft. Collins, said he’s developing a brochure on LPDs directed at recreationists.
His agency’s public relations team will work with other agencies – Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management – as well as ASI to distribute the brochure.
“This will be a tool that will be beneficial to provide information to the public,” said Marlow.
He cited several research needs, including relationships between dogs and wolves: Are dogs actually attracting wolves? How many dogs are needed in wolf areas? And what are the most effective breeds in these areas?
“I’m a resource for you,” Marlow told the producers. “Let me know about your research needs or any other questions.”
Kurt VerCauteren, a project leader for the Wildlife Disease Research Center, said the use of dogs to guard sheep seems like a ‘no-brainer,’ given that his research group now focuses 95 percent on non-lethal means of predator control.