1) Wolf packs could pop up around more Washington cattle ranches in the future — a lot more.
Faux packs, anyway.
A Kittitas County rancher has agreed to participate in a study to figure out if “bio fencing” works to keep the nearby Teanaway Pack out of his herd.
What’s a bio fence?
“The use of wolf scat and urine to establish a phantom pack if you will,” WDFW’s Dave Ware explained to the Fish & Wildlife Commission during an August 17 conference call.
He says it’s shown some promise in Idaho and elsewhere.
A range rider will also be employed there.
2) Ware also briefed the citizen oversight panel on significantly stepped up wolf trapping efforts.
Currently the agency has three teams out, one for the northeast and southeast corners and the Cascades, but now plans to have up to five teams afield as summer fades.
“We’re bringing in some assistance from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to lead a crew as well as a contractor, Carter Niemeyer, whom many people know for his expertise with wolves, to run a crew,” Ware says.
3) Late last week, as the number of injured and dead cattle in the Wedge of northern Stevens County mounted, WDFW considered taking out the GPS-collared male wolf.
Director Phil Anderson told the commission that in some cases killing the alpha of a livestock-depredating pack has resulted in breaking the group up.
He also said that wolf managers in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho strongly advised against it.
“‘Whatever you do, keep a collared member of that pack,’” Anderson paraphrased their advice.
Lose it and the agency would lose its “eyes” in the woods, making figuring out the pack’s day-to-day whereabouts more difficult and further reducing the odds of trapping another member.
Wolves here are blamed for killing two calves and injuring five more and a cow of the McIrvin’s Diamond M Ranch, which grazes the animals in Colville National Forest allotments in the mountains between the tiny border-crossing burg of Laurier on the Kettle River and Northport, on the Columbia River.
Another dead calf was discovered in the area this summer, and apparently injured calves are still at loose on the range. A fourth calf’s death was pinned on a cougar.
4) Wolf advocates grumble about the fact that the herd is grazing public land, bristle at some of the rancher’s comments — the only compensation they want is a wolf for a calf — and say not enough preventative measures are being taken.
Anderson told the commission that some of those conflict reduction strategies just aren’t available in this steep, brushy country, tools such as fencing, fladry and rubber bullets, but that Diamond M did turn out its calves later this year when they were a bit bigger and older.
Telemetry data from the wolf collared in mid-July shows that the pack’s territory in Washington has a “100 percent overlap with grazing allotments,” according to Ware, who is the Game Division manager.
Because of stipulations in McIrvin’s Forest Service grazing lease, the rancher has to spread the animals out across the land, and that means “the ability to avoid the area of wolf activity is not high,” he says.
Anderson says he believes McIrvin has done a lot to avoid problems.
“These are very valuable animals. He wants probably more than anyone else to reduce losses. He’s the one who suffers the losses financially,” he says.
5) Commissioner Larry Carpenter asked Anderson if the Wedge wolves had changed their appetite from game to livestock, but it was a question the director couldn’t answer very well because there’s just not much information about them, though he did suggest that “it looks like a pack that’s habituated to that.”
Out of curiosity I went through the last 12 years of deer harvest records for that particular game management unit, Kelly Hill. Those do show that 2011 saw the fewest bucks killed by rifle hunters — 252 — but also the lowest turnout of hunters reporting they ventured that way — 1,091.
I wouldn’t say it was widely known that wolves were in the area until after last deer season when ranchers started reporting higher than usual cattle losses, so in other words, hunters wouldn’t have been scared off by field reports. And in general, 2011 saw nearly across the board declines in hunter numbers and buck harvest.
Last year’s success percentage in the GMU was right at the 12-year average — 25.5 or so — as was the number of days it took to kill one, 18.5.
Since 2000, high marks included a harvest of 369 bucks and 519 total deer in 2006, 2,249 hunters in 2000, a 29.8 percent success rate in 2005, 8,800 hunter days in 2000 and just 15.3 days per kill in 2006.
Low marks included, again, a harvest of 252 bucks last year, 277 total deer in 2010, 1,091 hunters last year, 21 percent success rates in 2000 and 2002 and 21.3 days per kill in 2002.
6) As for the hunt going on in the Wedge for wolves, where WDFW may take up to four out, no luck so far.
7) That didn’t stop seven more pro-wolf groups from today issuing another call to stop the hunt, this one more sober than the one issued by Howling For Justice earlier in the week.
On letterhead from the Western Environmental Law Center, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society of the United States, Snohomish Group of the Sierra Club Washington State Chapter, WELC and Wolf Haven International take issue with the agency’s depredation conclusions about recent incidents and say it is ignoring its own wolf management plan.
“The unjustified, state-sanctioned killing of an endangered species is completely at odds with that classification and obviously at odds with the goal of recovering the species,” a letter to Director Phil Anderson reads.
Wolves in that part of the state were removed from the Federal endangered species list in May 2011, but remain state listed.
The letter was cc’ed to top lawmakers and the wildlife commission.
8] Meanwhile, over at Smackout Pass, south of the Wedge but also in Stevens County, WDFW is working heavily with another rancher and Conservation Northwest to avoid conflicts between a cattle herd and pack of wolves.
An array of tactics are being used, including texting the overnight and 5 a.m. GPS coordinates of two collared males to range rider Leisa Hill.
“She’s really active on the four-wheeler, the horse and on foot,” said state assistant wildlife biologist Jay Shepherd in a phone call Thursday afternoon.
Hill also has noisemakers, spotlights and telemetry equipment at her disposal, he says, adding that he’s also been spotlighting and recently deployed RAG or radio-activated guard boxes.
“We just spend a lot of time up there,” Shepherd says.
So far it’s working — there haven’t been any depredation reports from here, nor cows bawling for lost calves or any tight-bag mothers, but the final test will be at roundup, he noted.
9) Efforts to find wolves other than the Lookout and Teanaways on the eastern slopes of the Cascades continue to be fruitless, but as hunters head afield this fall, it’s likely reports will come in (file them here, guys).
10) And back at the sight of 2012′s first depredation, a wolf passed by a water trough frequented by cattle in one of the Thurlow’s pastures outside Carlton two weeks ago. A game warden found large canid tracks in the area, some of which were subsequently obscured by watering cows.