WDFW reports killing a member of the livestock-predating Wedge wolf pack of northern Stevens County this morning and is still on the hunt for another.
It’s the first time under the state’s wolf management plan that the agency has taken lethal action against wolves, and it follows attacks on cattle in mid-July and attempts to haze the pack.
“Our goal in taking today’s action was to reduce the size of the pack and break the pattern of predation,” said Nate Pamplin, assistant WDFW wildlife director in a press release. “We can’t guarantee that today’s action will prevent future attacks by this pack, but we have clear indications that non-lethal actions alone are unlikely to reduce predation on livestock.”
Since mid-July, the Wedge pack is believed to be responsible for killing one calf and injuring five cows or calves of the Diamond M Ranch. At least two animals are also missing, WDFW says, and another two calves appeared injured, though it’s unclear what attacked them.
The attack which prompted today’s culling involved a calf that was injured late last week.
The wolf that was shot is described as a nonbreeding female. The hunt for it was likely aided by a GPS tracking collar on the pack’s likely alpha male; it was captured in late June.
State agents will remain in the area through tomorrow morning to try and kill another. It’s probable they will target another nonbreeding animal rather than the alphas or pup(s), which would count towards statewide recovery goals should they make it through the end of the year without further problems.
The wolf plan allows managers to “remove,” as the euphemism goes, one or two wolves from packs known to repeatedly attack livestock after preventative measures have been taken.
According to WDFW, nonlethal methods such as electrified fencing and regular check-ups on the 200-plus cow-calf pairs by five cowboys were attempted before today’s action.
A USDA Wildlife Services staffer has been in the area as well to haze wolves.
WDFW director Phil Anderson visited the ranch after mid-July’s attacks, and he noted they’re working in that part of the state with the most wolves — six of the state’s eight known packs are north of the Spokane River and west of Lake Roosevelt and the Kettle River.
He said that the agency’s recovery plan permits WDFW to “minimize wolf-livestock conflict that could undermine public support for the long-term recovery effort.”
The legal killing of the first wolf in the state’s modern history sparked an immediate response from Conservation Northwest. The Bellingham-based group has been heavily involved in Washington wolves and acknowledges that problem wolves must be taken out.
However, they questioned whether Diamond M had taken enough steps to reduce livestock conflicts on their Churchill Allotment in the rugged, thick ground of the Colville National Forest between the Kettle and Columbia Rivers and the Canadian border.
“The killing of problem wolves will be part of life in Washington from here out,” said executive director Mitch Friedman in a press release, “But it’s unclear in this case whether the right livestock stewardship steps have first been tried to reduce conflict potential. If we expect wolves to behave, ranchers need to meet them half way.”
We hope to get a comment from Bill McIrvin of the Diamond M tonight.
The area is where the state’s first modern-day livestock depredation occurred, 2007′s killing of two calves by wolves. Last winter ranchers also reported “higher than normal” calf losses, according to WDFW.
In the Northern Rocky Mountains, between 1987 and the end of last year, a wolf was killed for every cow confirmed to have been killed by wolves.
Wolves in the eastern third of the state have been federally delisted but remain under state protections; wolves in the western third are still on the ESA list.
It’s been a hot spring and summer for wolf news in Washington, with WDFW confirming the Wedge and Huckleberry Packs, trapping and radio collaring members of the Teanaway and Smackout Packs, and reporting that each of those packs as well as Diamond have had pups. Additionally, the Colville Tribes captured two members of the Nc’icn Pack, and there were two other confirmed or probable wolf kills elsewhere in the state.
Conservatively, there are a minimum of 35 wolves in the state’s eight known packs, but likely many more than that what with another four suspected packs and likely roamers, like OR7 and the Teanaway Pack female that went to BC this spring and was killed, on the landscape.
It’s unclear how many wolves make up the Wedge Pack, but there are at least two breeding adults and a pup. Video released last winter indicated there were four members at that time, all of which would have been adult sized, so at least five — minus one now, and maybe two by tomorrow morning.
Washington was not part of the 1990s reintroduction of wolves into the Northern Rockies. While wolves here likely have migrated from there, mostly they come from Canada and North Idaho/Northwest Montana where they recolonized on their own.
Today’s action illustrates that WDFW is no longer sitting on its hands on wolves — it’s clearly ramped up its management efforts since the plan was approved by the Fish & Wildlife Commission last December — and is taking an active role when conditions demand.
The agency says it will reevaluate the situation in the Wedge later this week.
For more on Washington wolves, search this blog.