1) It was a year ago this past Friday that a deer hunter killed an adult female wolf in North-central Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness, an act that was investigated and determined to be self-defense.
It happened the morning of Sept. 19 during the High Buck Hunt near Silver Lake, about 4.5 trail miles north of Slate Peak and Harts Pass, and in that part of the state where wolves remain federally listed under the Endangered Species Act.
After brief media coverage here and elsewhere in late September and early October, the case disappeared from radar.
At some point since then Phil Anderson, the director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, quietly told the state Fish & Wildlife Commission, “USFWS completed their investigation of the wolf killed by a hunter in the Pasayten area last fall. The evidence at the scene and statement by the subject did not refute the shooters claim that the he (sic) killed the wolf in self-defense.”
As for what happened that day and during federal and state wildlife officers’ investigation afterwards, case files obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act earlier this year are instructive.
According to the statement of the hunter, whose name and even sex is redacted in the documents (it was reported last October that the hunter was a man), things began just after 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 19, the seventh day he and three friends had been in the Pasayten for the early chance to hunt trophy muleys with a rifle and general season tag.
Hunting had been slow, but the man, who was on his first High Hunt, was watching a doe feeding along a steep slope, and as it moved closer, it kept glancing upslope, leading him to believe there were more deer nearby. One of the investigating officers gathered that the night before, a “nice buck” had been seen near the spot.
After he’d watched the doe for approximately five minutes, the deer suddenly wheeled and ran off in the opposite direction, downslope, the hunter stated.
“Simultaneously, I heard a faint branch crack and my peripheral vision saw a charging animal. The animal was approaching from behind and to my right side. My initial instinct was ‘wolf’ and I feared for my personal safety/life based upon it’s (sic) limited distance,” the hunter’s statement to officers says.
“In fractions of a second, I stepped back and shouldered my Tika .270 WSM firing once at an estimated 15′ distance to the wolf. I do not even recall even aquiring (sic) the wolf in my scope prior to firing,” he stated.
“The wolf fell to the ground approximately 15′ away in the opposite direction. The wolf was shaking and appeared to be suffering so I fired one additional shot,” the hunter stated.
“With limited decision making time and fearing for my life, I felt strongly that leathal (sic) force was my only option for mitigating the threat,” the statement says.
A hunting partner, who was nearby but out of sight, called on the radio for a status check.
“I just had a wolf come up on me,” he replied, according to his statement.
Afraid that there might be more wolves, the hunter drew a sidearm and reloaded his .270 while his partner came down to see the wolf.
After marking the spot with a GPS waypoint and taking photos, the two hunters returned to Silver Lake and, joined by the other two, broke camp and headed back to the trailhead.
One shot a buck along the way, which delayed their return, and they ended up spending that night in a cabin near Twisp, according to the hunter’s statement.
After returning to his home in southern Puget Sound the next day, the hunter looked up WDFW’s wolf hotline number and called in the shooting around 3 p.m.
Despite the next day being the start of the weekend, state and federal wildlife investigators were scrambled. Using the GPS coordinates the hunter provided, three state game wardens, a state wildlife biologist and a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist went to the scene, Saturday, Sept. 21, and found the wolf in the same location that pictures on the hunter’s phone depicted it in.
Photos included in the case file show a typical high-mountain parklike scene, a sloping meadow fringed by subalpine trees. According to officers, the area was home to a marmot colony, which wolves would feed on, a biologist told them.
The female wolf weighed 70 to 80 pounds and was missing some front teeth on its lower jaw, though otherwise described as healthy, according to the case file.
It’s possible that the animal was the same as a “wild canid” spotted nearby in the Robinson Creek drainage earlier that summer. It bore no collar and probably was a loner as no pack was or is known to exist in this part of North-central Washington northwest of Mazama.
A field necropsy determined that one bullet had entered the wolf’s left shoulder and exited out of its right, and the other had gone through its right side, from shoulder to hip. Those suggested to officers that the through-shoulder shot was first.
Next, federal and state officers interviewed the hunter at home, zeroing in on the possibility he could have shot into the wolf’s chest to “make it appear to be a frontal shot,” i.e., staged it to make it appear that it was charging.
“____ bristled and insisted that did not happen. ____ was adamant __ remained in the same position or close to it when __ fired the second shot,” reads a redacted report written by an unnamed U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service special agent.
The report also says that, confronted with various scenarios and warned of potentially serious consequences, the hunter “maintained ___ story and composure throughout the interview.”
The USFWS agent’s “opinion and conclusions” section states:
“SA ____ does not believe that ____ was actually in danger from this grey wolf. The record of attacks by non-habituated grey wolves is very small. After interviewing/interrogating _____ SA ____ believes that ____ lack of experience in remote areas and ___ unfamiliarity with wolf biology led ___ to believe that ___ was in danger and thus led ___ to take this wolf. Subsequently this event could be argued as a self defense take and is permitted under the self-defense exception found in 50 CFR 17.21 (c)(2).”
No charges have been filed, and indeed, wolf attacks on humans are exceedingly rare. But as Washington’s population of Canis lupus has grown in recent years, wolf encounters have increased.
One occurred right before 2011’s High Buck Hunt on Sawtooth Ridge between the Twisp River and Lake Chelan, another happened in the Teanaway between elk hunters and members of the local pack later that year, and a third between a Forest Service worker and his dog and two wolves near Sherman Pass in summer 2012.
The agency’s FAQs for wolves notes: “Wild wolves generally fear and avoid people, and rarely pose a threat to human safety. In the past 60 years, there have been two wolf-caused human fatalities in North America (Canada and Alaska). Two broad summaries published in 2002 documented 28 reports of wolf aggression towards humans in North America from 1969 to 2001. Nineteen of these involved wolves habituated to people and five involved people accompanied by domestic dogs. There have been no physical attacks on people by wolves in Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming from the time wolf recovery began in the 1980s.”
One wolf behavior that freaks people out is the stop-and-stare-at-you, a fault of the animals’ curious nature, and WDFW’s FAQs gives some advice should things take a turn for the worse:
“In the extremely rare event of an encounter with an aggressive wolf, don’t run or turn your back. Stand your ground, act aggressively by stepping toward the wolf and yelling or clapping your hands if it tries to approach. Use air horns or other loud noise-makers. Stare directly at the wolf and retreat slowly while facing the wolf. Climb a tree if necessary. If a wolf attacks, fight back with any means possible, including bear spray or firearms if necessary. Wolf-dog hybrids, which cannot necessarily be distinguished from wild wolves, can be more dangerous to humans than wild wolves because they have lost their natural fear of humans. While they are bred from domestic dogs, they still retain the predatory instinct from their wolf ancestry,” WDFW advises.
2) I spoke too soon in the last Daily Howler that the reading list for this week’s meeting of WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group was a mere 126 pages long.
Another PDF, this one 19 pages long, was added this morning.
With the Ruby Creek female exhibiting some very nonwolflike behavior — hanging out with horses, chickens, even cougar hounds in the Pend Oreille Valley near Ione — members of the group will be reading up on “Management Of Habituated Wolves In Yellowstone National Park.”
For all ya’ll reading up on wolves and wolf management at home, here’s the link to the homework.
3) Stevens County Commissioners may be misrepresenting what WDFW said about how many members of the Huckleberry Pack it would remove after the wolves had killed around two dozen sheep north of the Spokane Reservation.
A resolution passed unanimously by the three commissioners last week says:
“… on August 22, 2014 Director Phil Anderson authorized the removal of four members of the ‘Huckleberry Pack’ …”
” …. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife failed to remove four members of the ‘Huckleberry Pack’ pursuant to the August 22, 2014 authorization …”
WDFW has it differently.
An Aug. 25 press release states, “In an effort to break the cycle of predation, WDFW Director Phil Anderson has authorized the removal of up to four members of the pack …”
And in an Aug. 27 email in the wake of the removal of the alpha female and sent to numerous folks in the wolf-livestock world, assistant director Nate Pamplin said “We have established a trapline and have provided instructions to euthanize up to three more wolves caught.”
So, did state wolf managers give the herder one thing and the rest of us another thing?
That’s the question I put to regional manager Steve Pozzanghera, who responded via email:
“As was discussed with those involved in lethal removal and with the operator and the County; the authorization (verbal instructions/discussion) were that we were attempting to remove up to four wolves. No private discussions about anything other than up to four and that was very deliberate. Wolves are difficult to kill and did not want to ‘promise’ a specific number that would be killed,” replied Pozzanghera (emphasis in the original).
Stevens County officials didn’t appear to have a problem that one of their own didn’t kill the up to two wolves that a permit granted by WDFW allowed him to take.
4) The commissioners passed their resolution about a week after receiving a letter from WDFW’s director.
In it, Phil Anderson stated that a previous resolution advising county residents that they had the constitutional right to kill wolves potentially opened up citizens to trouble if they acted outside of what is allowed — shooting a wolf that is attacking a person or an owner’s animals, the latter being the caught-in-the-act rule now in effect in the delisted eastern third of the state.
Citing case law and the Revised Codes of Washington, Anderson writes, “I am concerned that your approval of Resolution 46-2014 may lead the citizens of Stevens County to reach the wrong conclusions about the scope of their rights and it appears to exercise authority that the County does not possess.”
Acknowledging that Stevens County is on “the front line in a very difficult situation,” Anderson requested that the commission rescind the order and offered to write a joint news release on the caught-in-the-act rule.
5) Meanwhile, another Stevens County ranch received a national award recently for “the family’s progressive approach to facing challenges associated with livestock grazing on federal lands,” reports the Spokane Spokesman-Review today.
The Dawsons have been using range riders the past three years to keep the Smackout Pack out of their cattle on a Forest Service allotment.
No depredations have occurred, it was reported, but last week WDFW was dispatching extra staff to help out there. Currently, no member of the pack wears one of the helpful telemetry devices that wolfies so hate.
6) According to state wolf manager Donny Martorello, WDFW has yet to add up the bill for August’s Huckleberry Wolf operation.
It not only will include a little flight time, but also the hours for anywhere from two to four state staffers who provided wolf hazing, sheep herding and night patrol services over 13 days, according to an agency timeline.
In summer 2012, removing the Wedge Pack cost $76,500.
As for where the cash for that sort of wolf work comes from, no, it’s not taxpayer pockets.
Or hunting license dollars.
“No Pittman-Robertson funds are used,” Martorello adds.
He points to dedicated wolf management funding, such as the extra $10 that the state Legislature tacked onto the cost of personalized license plates during the 2013 session.
7) The next wolf-sheep rodeo may have begun in Northeast Oregon.
On successive nights early last week, the Mt. Emily wolves killed eight sheep and injured an adult guard dog and a pup in Umatilla County near Ruckle Junction. Another guard pup was reported missing.
8) Add wildfire to the list of things that kills wolf pups.
In last week’s Howler we noted that around 50 percent of each year’s litter die before reaching adulthood because of things like starvation, other predators (cougars have a sweet tooth for wolves apparently), poaching as well as Toyos (see item #9 below) and disease (in Northeast Oregon, canine parvovirus has killed some).
Now comes word that one of the Lookout Pack’s pups probably died because of the fast-moving Carlton Complex fire of mid-July.
“The pup’s remains—only bones and fur left—were found at a burnt-over rendezvous site,” a WSU researcher told the Methow Valley News for last week’s paper. “We believe the pup died post-fire, as the remains would not have survived the severity of the burn. We can only speculate about the cause of death, however, it was likely fire-related injuries.”
The rest of the pack — the alphas, a collared female and two pups and possibly other members — made it through the fire all right, the News reports.
9) And finally, add attention whore to the titles Toby Bridges can claim.
He got the wolfies all worked up after posting an inflammatory story on Facebook last week about running over two wolf pups on I-90 in western Montana.
That led to coverage in the Great Falls Tribune, which reported that game wardens were looking into the incident in which Bridges initially posted that he “hit the accelerator” to mash the wolves in an effort to save a cow and calf elk.
That earned a rebuke from Treasure State-born Rich Landers, longtime outdoors columnist for the Spokane Spokesman-Review: “Whether on purpose or an accident, a self-professed champion for the eradication of wolves comes off looking like an animal.”
“It’s very unsporting, regardless of how you feel about wolves or lawful means for harvest of wolves, certainly running them down on the highway is not what we would accept,” Northwest Montana’s chief wildlife officer, Capt. Joseph Jaquith, told the Tribune.