WDFW Director authorizes lethal action on wolf pack

By on Thursday, July 23rd, 2020 in Columbia Basin News Regional News

(News release from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

OLYMPIA – Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Kelly Susewind Thursday authorized WDFW staff to lethally remove a wolf from the Wedge pack territory in response to repeated depredations of cattle on grazing lands in Stevens County.

The proactive and responsive non-lethal deterrents used by the affected livestock producers (described below) in the area this grazing season have not curtailed further depredations. Director Susewind’s decision is consistent with the guidance of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and the lethal removal provisions of the Department’s 2017 wolf-livestock interaction protocol.

Consistent with the guidance of the plan and protocol, the rationale for authorizing lethal removal of a Wedge wolf is as follows: 

WDFW has documented nine depredation incidents (five within the last 30 days) resulting in two dead livestock and ten injured livestock since May 11, 2020 attributed to the Wedge pack. All nine events were classified as confirmed wolf depredations.

At least two proactive deterrence measures and responsive deterrence measures (if applicable) were implemented by each of the two livestock producers affected by the depredations:

Producer 1

  • At the time of the first depredation, the affected livestock were pastured near the producer’s home; they were checked daily and there was regular human presence in the area. The producer calved near the home, monitored for sick/injured livestock, used carcass sanitation, and hazed wolves away during the first depredation incident. Following the depredations, WDFW staff placed Fox lights in the pasture. Producer 1 used Cattle Producers of Washington range riders for six full days and eight partial days starting May 11 mainly on a 100-acre private pasture near the residence. Range riders have been transitioning with the livestock to larger summer grazing allotments. 

Producer 2

  • The producer removed or treated sick or injured livestock when discovered, used carcass sanitation, calved away from areas occupied by wolves, delayed turnout of livestock until wild ungulates were born, had human presence around livestock, and used range riders. This livestock producer used Cattle Producers of Washington range riders for six full days and eight partial days from May 21 through June 18 mainly on an 800-acre private pasture. Range riders transitioned with the livestock to larger summer grazing allotments. Following the depredation confirmed on June 17, range riding and livestock monitoring efforts were intensified. Range riding has been occurring four days a week, with the largest gap in coverage being two days. In addition to this increase in range riding, the producer, family members, or ranch staff have checked the cattle on the grazing allotment near the Wedge territory on a daily basis since the depredation confirmed on June 17.

The department documented these deterrents in the agency’s “wolf-livestock mitigation measures” checklist, with date entries for deterrent tools and coordination with the producers and range riders.

WDFW expects depredations to continue even with non-lethal tools being utilized. Staff also believe there are no reasonable, additional reactive non-lethal tools that could be deployed.

The lethal removal of a wolf from the Wedge pack territory is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach the statewide recovery objective. WDFW has documented two known wolf mortalities in the state since Jan 1, 2020. In previous years, WDFW has documented 12 – 21 mortalities per year and the population has continued to grow and expand its range.

The Department’s wolf plan also modeled lethal removal to help inform decision makers during this stage of recovery. The analysis in the plan included wolf survival estimates from northwest Montana, which incorporated a 28% mortality rate. It is important to note that agency lethal control was factored into that 28% mortality estimate. To err on the side of caution (i.e., when in doubt assume greater impact to wolf population so true impact is not underestimated), the scenarios modeled in the wolf plan included an even higher level of lethal control (i.e., removing 30% of population every four years in addition to baseline 28% mortality rate). Based on that modeling analysis, as well as an analysis of higher levels of potential mortality on the actual population level of wolves in the eastern recovery zone and statewide, we do not expect this action to jeopardize wolf recovery in the eastern recovery zone or statewide.

WDFW discussed the impacts of removing a wolf from the Wedge pack territory and determined the current level of mortality should not negatively impact the ability to recover wolves in Washington.

WDFW is providing one full business day (eight hours) advance public notice before initiating lethal removal activity.

WDFW will keep the public informed about this activity through weekly updates. The next update will be provided on July 30.