National and local wolf advocates are calling foul on WDFW’s hunt for wolves in the predator-rich Wedge where a ranch has seen two calves killed and another five calves and a cow injured over the past five weeks.
Defenders of Wildlife is calling the agency’s plans to kill multiple wolves in northern Stevens County an “unjustified sentence” while Conservation Northwest of Bellingham, saying that the agency is bending under pressure from the rancher, will ask its supporters to call Governor Gregoire and the Fish & Wildlife Commission to “take a more responsible approach” to managing the state’s wolves.
But while WDFW has been deluged with calls since a DOW blog yesterday, it is not changing course.
“We are continuing to proceed with removal of up to four wolves from the Wedge Pack,” confirmed Nate Pamplin, the agency’s Wildlife Program manager, this afternoon.
Attributing all eight of the aforementioned cattle attacks to wolves, on Monday WDFW deployed a team to trap and collar a pack member and kill others (one was taken out last week). No wolves have been captured or killed so far this week.
Pamplin points to the pattern of predation on the Diamond M Ranch’s Colville National Forest allotment between mid-July and last week, and this afternoon the agency posted a timeline (also see below) which outlines wolf-livestock conflicts in the area since July 2007.
“This isn’t just a single event that happened last week that’s causing us to remove up to four wolves,” he said.
Still, both DOW and Conservation Northwest dispute the evidence WDFW has collected in recent weeks.
“These reports fail to prove that wolves killed or injured livestock, and the majority of the injuries — most of which are not even close to life threatening — can be easily classified as those commonly sustained by cattle ranging on national forest lands, inflicted by barbed wire, trees or bushes, moving debris during storms, and a host of other possibilities, including animals other than wolves,” blogged DOW’s Suzanne Stone, a name quite familiar in the Northern Rockies’ wolf world and one which will probably become more known in Washington as this state’s population continues to grow.
Conservation Northwest is also asking for clearer evidence that it’s the Wedge wolves that are preying on the cattle, and says that if that’s the case, nonlethal deterrents should be a first priority.
And they worry that other ranchers in the state might follow Diamond M’s stance; one of its owners has rejected compensation (though has taken it in the past) and said the only solution is a wolf for a calf.
“This shows that a rancher can put his effort into ranting to press and politicians and WDFW will dance to his tune by killing wolves,” said the organization’s executive director Mitch Friedman. “The solution is for the effort to be put into quality stewardship practices that have proven to reduce predator conflict. The question is whether WDFW has the backbone to hold out for that.”
Elsewhere in the state, WDFW has been texting GPS coordinates on two wolves to a range rider at Smackout Pass. The agency and CNW are splitting the bill on the rider’s services.
A PAIR OF DEPREDATION REPORTS from last week’s incidents are instructive. They do show that state staffers and outside experts have some differences of opinion on what caused wounds to two calves, one of which died, though in general WDFW game wardens and biologists settle on wolves being confirmed or probably responsible in both cases.
The first investigation focused on a 250-plus-pound calf with bite marks and scratches to its back legs.
The area was shaved for examination and photographing.
In coming to his conclusion that it was a confirmed wolf depredation, state game warden Dan Anderson noted 2-inch spacing between bite marks, corresponding damage on the inside and outside of legs indicating “teeth grabbing around the limb from the rear side,” and bite marks as high as 28 inches up the back leg.
State assistant wildlife biologist Jay Shepherd was also on scene. In his write-up he notes that he has attended depredation training by Carter Niemeyer, but with “limited” experience in these cases he ran the evidence past four current and former federal wolf experts.
One in Idaho didn’t believe the superficiality of the wounds pointed to an adult or even yearling wolf, and said the only possible predation explanation was that it was a “single, unconfident wolf, but (believed) that to be a stretch.”
Another in that state believed the calf’s injuries were caused by a wolf “of limited experience” and “had no problem with a confirmed designation.”
A former Wyoming expert agreed with the first Idaho person, that the “attack was not of the power and type of a wolf.”
The last consultee, also from the Cowboy State, said the injuries weren’t “characteristic of a wolf pack in the period when pups are growing in that the injuries are light and superficial for a species that would know how to kill even at 1+ years of age and causes severe damage to selected prey targets.”
Shepherd concludes the calf was hit by a predator, based on the ragged tears and multiple punctures. Uncharacteristic, he says, of a cougar or bear attack, too big for a coyote, difficult to pin on barbed wire or downed tree branches, and hard to envision that a domestic dog might be running in the heart of wolf country — the GPS-collared male was just a mile away the day before — he opines that it was “caused by a single, inexperienced wolf.”
As for the Aug. 16 investigation of a dead calf found the day before, game wardens skinned it to get a better understanding of what happened.
Anderson, who’s worked on six depredation investigations, noted severe hemorrhaging and tissue damage to the animal’s front left shoulder area, nose bridge, and right rear flank, but no puncture marks that went through the hide, nor tracks or scat.
But he determined it was a confirmed wolf attack.
In his write-up fellow wildlife officer Don Weatherman says the many bite marks around one shoulder precluded finding a dentition pattern to measure. But considering the injuries, damage to muscle tissue, proximity of the Wedge Pack and the injured calf from earlier in the week, he concludes that the dead animal showed “reasonable physical evidence that it was attacked and died from injuries suffered from a wolf attack.”
District wildlife biologist Dana Base observed that the calf had not been fed on and also noted the lack of puncture wounds. He saw hemorrhaging and trauma in the muscles on the calf’s right and left hips, left shoulder, neck and nose area, as well as irregular dime-sized bruises that he felt were “consistent with jaw and tooth compression from repeated biting without puncture to the hide.”
He also sent off images to current and former federal wolf experts and found varying opinions, which he summarized thusly:
An expert from Idaho stated that this looked like a wolf kill to him. Wolves don’t always eat something from the carcass. The big hemorrhages on the left shoulder and neck with the corresponding bite marks were enough to confirm. That there was hemorrhaging on both back legs made this determination more solid.
Another expert from Idaho stated that the apparent injuries to the calf appeared superficial and that if a wolf killed it, the wolf would have had more gums than teeth. That the calf was discovered laying on its left side where most of the “bruises” were found suggested more blood pooling than significant mechanical injury from wolf bites. Wolves typically inflict multiple bites and repeatedly tear out tissue from their prey to the point where the prey animal is unable to continue fleeing or even stand up any longer until it ultimately succumbs to the injury and trauma. This expert encouraged that the WDFW have a veterinarian do a follow-up necropsy including inside the body cavity of the calf.
The expert from Wyoming stated similar concerns as the previous expert. The attack was not of the power and type of a wolf. The bites were not powerful enough and the attack was inefficient and uncharacteristic of a wolf pack in the period when pups are growing and needing to be fed. All that said, given that the dead calf was so close to a road potentially changes everything in that a wolf pack in the act of killing the calf could have been inadvertently interrupted by humans passing by in motor vehicles.
Base expressed puzzlement about the lack of puncture wounds and why the calf wasn’t fed on, but pointing to the muscle bruises, concludes “a ‘probable’ designation of wolf kill seems reasonable to me, however, not a ‘confirmed’ designation.”
In the end, state wolf managers issued a special statement that labeled both as “confirmed,” and they’re standing firm on that.
“Our staff is very well qualified and very competent in what we do. They’re able to distinguish between types of predation and mortality,” said Pamplin.
Presumably their shooters are just as good, though it may be awhile before they can get a clear shot on the wolves of the Wedge.
Also in the area, cougars, blamed for another dead calf earlier this summer, and black bears, and in spring, four grizzlies were roaming the Wedge.
To counter criticisms that it wasn’t going off half-cocked and that preventative measures had not been taken, WDFW also posted a timeline of wolf problems in the area, and a bit more information about what is, frankly, a not-so-well-known pack.
Wedge Pack Depredation Timeline
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
August 22, 2012
Note: The state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan discusses the management of wolf-livestock conflict on pages 85-89 and compensation issues on pages 90-94.
- Sept 4, 2007 – Confirmed wolf depredation on one calf at Diamond M Ranch
- Ranch owner received compensation.
During 2011 – Several livestock operators report increased calf losses in the vicinity of Wedge Pack in Northeast Washington. April 1-14, 2012 – Wolves stalked calving operation at a ranch adjacent to Diamond M.
- Specialized fencing (fladry with electric fencing) was installed around neighboring ranch’s calving operation.
- Department issued neighboring ranch a permit to kill a wolf “in the act” of attacking livestock if wolves penetrated an electric fence protecting his calving operation.
July 11, 2012 – One or more wolves injured a cow and calf on Diamond M Ranch
- Diamond M carrying out operational plan to minimize wolf-livestock conflicts, including:
- Placing calving areas in Southeast Washington away from wolf-occupied regions.
- Releasing cow-calf pairs onto the range later in the spring (June 12) so the calves were older and bigger. This makes them less vulnerable to predation and delays their exposure until natural prey are more available.
- Increasing to five the number of cowboys who go out daily to check on cattle.
- Removing livestock with significant injuries from the range for treatment and rehabilitation.
July 12, 2012 – One or more wolves involved in killing a calf on Diamond M Ranch. July 14, 2012 – One or more wolves involved in injuring two calves on Diamond M Ranch.
- Diamond M ranchers also observed two additional injured calves that they were not able to capture.
- Management actions:
- Wolves hazed away from Diamond M livestock by WDFW and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services staff in late July. (Efforts continued through early August.)
- WDFW stated that if another incident occurred, it would initiate the removal of 1 to 2 wolves.
- Department issued Diamond M Ranch owner a permit to kill a wolf “in the act” of attacking livestock.
August 2, 2012 – One or more wolves involved in injuring a calf on Diamond M Ranch.
- In addition, the remains of another carcass were also discovered, but the cause of death was indeterminate.
- Management actions:
- To reduce wolf-livestock interactions, WDFW lethally removed one non-breeding female from the Wedge pack and shared wolf pack location information with Diamond M Ranch.
- WDFW stated if wolf attacks on livestock continue, the Department will employ strategies to break up the pack through additional lethal removal(s) (see pages 85-89).
August 14, 2012 – One or more wolves involved in injuring a calf on Diamond M Ranch.
- Department initiates strategies to break up the Wedge pack to break the pattern of wolf-livestock interaction.
August 16, 2012 – Wolves involved with killing a calf on the Diamond M Ranch.
- Department deploys strategies to break up the Wedge pack to break the pattern of wolf depredations.
The above actions led to the Department to continue offering compensation to the Diamond M Ranch (declined by the owners); lethally removing one non-breeding wolf, and initiating actions that could lead to removing four additional members of the Wedge pack. Before making the decision to pursue lethal removal, the Department reviewed the conservation objectives of the Plan to make sure that action was consistent with the conservation goals outlined in the Plan (page 64 of the plan). Severalfactors influenced the Department’s decision to lethally removal wolves:
- The Department has documented multiple attack incidents on area livestock on multiple age classes of livestock (one adult cow, five calves).
- WDFW has documented multiple livestock injured or killed on multiple dates.
- The attacks persisted well into the time when natural prey is abundant.
- The Wedge pack is in the eastern third of Washington state, where there are no federal protections under the federal Endangered Species Act.
- Removing a wolf pack in the Eastern Washington recovery area has a low probability of impacting the Department’s conservation objectives (statewide and regional), because the recovery area includes six confirmed packs and three suspected packs (see appendices G and H of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan).
- The Department has radio collared the alpha male from the Wedge pack.
- Relocation is not an option in this recovery area, because there are other packs present and support for moving wolves associated with livestock killing is unlikely from potential recipients.
- This pack has successfully bred for a minimum of two years, based on photos last winter and the captured pup this summer. The local community believes that pups were produced initially as early as 2009 (four years).