Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Kelly Susewind today authorized department staff to lethally remove wolves from a new pack that has repeatedly preyed on cattle on federal grazing lands in the Kettle River Range of Ferry County.
WDFW staff have confirmed that on six separate occasions since Sept. 4, one or more members of the Old Profanity Territory (OPT) pack killed one calf and injured five others on a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) grazing allotment. The pack occupies the same general area as the Profanity Peak pack in 2016.
Five of the OPT depredations are described in a Sept. 11 report on the WDFW website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/updates.php. The sixth incident, confirmed after the report was published, resulted in an injured calf, which has been removed from the grazing allotment with its mother.
Susewind authorized “incremental” removal of wolves from the pack, consistent with the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and the lethal removal provisions of the department’s wolf-livestock interaction protocol. Both the plan and protocol define the initial step in incremental removal as meaning one or two wolves.
Under the protocol, WDFW can consider lethal action against wolves if department staff confirm three predations by wolves on livestock within 30 days, or four within 10 months. Depredations confirmed by WDFW in the past week meet the first criterion.
Based on a recent court order, the department must provide one business day’s (eight court hours) advance public notice before initiating lethal action on wolves. Consequently, the department will initiate lethal removal efforts against the OPT pack no sooner than the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 13.
WDFW will use humane lethal removal methods consistent with state and federal laws. The objective is to use the best methods available while considering human safety, humaneness to wolves, swift completion of the removal, weather, efficacy, and cost. Likely options in this case include shooting from a helicopter, trapping, and shooting from the ground.
As outlined in the wolf plan and protocol, incremental removal includes periods of active removals or attempts to remove wolves followed by periods of evaluation to determine if pack behavior has changed.
The department documented the presence of the OPT pack in May and notified the public on June 1. The affected livestock producer and USFS were also notified. Recent surveys indicate the pack includes three or four adult wolves and two pups. Wildlife managers have monitored the pack’s movements since June, when the adult male was captured and fitted with a tracking collar.
The protocol requires livestock producers to employ specified non-lethal measures to deter wolves from preying on livestock before WDFW will consider lethal action. In this case, the producer employed several approved deterrents:
Using range riders to keep watch over his herd;
Calving outside of occupied wolf range;
Delaying turning out cattle until July 10 a month later than usual when calving is finished and the calves are larger and less prone to predation;
Removing or securing livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd; and
Removing sick and injured livestock from the grazing area.
Between Aug. 20 and 26, before WDFW had confirmed any depredations by wolves, three dead calves were found on the grazing allotment. The cause of their deaths could not be determined because most of their flesh and hides were gone.
At that point, the range riders increased their patrols and helped the producer attempt to move the livestock away from the area where they suspected wolf activity.
The producer is continuing his efforts to move the cattle, and WDFW deployed Foxlights to deter wolves from preying on those remaining at the site.
The goal of lethal removal as described in the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is to manage wolf-livestock conflicts to minimize livestock losses without undermining the recovery of a sustainable wolf population. The purpose of the OPT lethal action is to change wolf pack behavior to reduce the potential for continued depredations on livestock while continuing to promote wolf recovery.
Consistent with the terms of the plan and protocol, the rationale for lethal removal of OPT wolves is as follows:
WDFW has documented six wolf depredations by the pack within the last 30 days. All of the incidents were confirmed wolf depredations, which resulting in one dead calf and five injured calves. All six depredations in this area occurred since Sept. 4;
At least two pro-active deterrence measures and various responsive measures, put in place after the initial depredations, have failed to meet the goal of changing pack behavior to reduce the potential for continued predation on livestock;
WDFW expects depredations to continue based of the history of depredations;
The department has documented the use of appropriate deterrents and has informed the public in a timely manner, as described in the protocol; and
The lethal removal of wolves is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach recovery objectives statewide or within the state’s eastern recovery region.
The department will keep the public informed about this activity through weekly updates, and will issue a final report on any lethal removal actions after the operation has concluded.
“This is a very difficult situation, especially given the history of wolf-livestock conflict in this area,” Susewind said. “We are committed to working with a diversity of stakeholders in a collaborative process to seek other creative and adaptive solutions to prevent future losses of wolves and livestock.”
The presence of the OPT pack was documented after WDFW completed its annual survey of the state’s wolf population in March. The survey identified 22 wolf packs and a minimum of 122 wolves. Annual surveys have shown the population growing at a rate of about 30 percent each year.