THIS BREAKING STORY IS BEING UPDATED
WDFW Director Jim Unsworth has authorized the removal of wolves from the Smackout Pack of Northeast Washington following an attack on a calf in recent days.
They’re set to begin this week; there is no specific number of wolves that will be killed, but protocols say one or two initially, followed by a review of actions, with the goal to stop the pack from harming more cattle.
The latest calf was the fourth confirmed or probable depredation by the east-central Stevens County pack on calves in the past 10 months.
While most of those occurred last September, in June an employee of a ranch also legally killed a pack member after spotting it and another wolf attacking cattle.
A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE SMACKOUT PACK NORTHWEST OF SPOKANE IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (WDFW)
“The incident was investigated by WDFW Enforcement and was found to be consistent with state regulations,” a statement from the agency reads.
Under state law, you can kill a single gray wolf if you are witnessing one or more attacking your domestic animals in the federally delisted eastern third of Washington. This particular wolf was a female that had been radio collared in 2015, according to WDFW.
It’s the first time the caught-in-the-act provision has been used by livestock operators in Washington.
As for the latest depredation, the calf was found injured on Forest Service ground on Tuesday.
Bite marks and collar location data show that the Smackout wolves have been near the cattle herd “on a frequent basis.”
The attack occurred in a fenced area, and according to WDFW several deterrence measures have been taken.
“The livestock producer that sustained the July 18, 2017 confirmed wolf depredation is currently using: several range riders (one range rider is primary, but others fill in on an as needed basis), has maintained sanitation by removing or securing livestock carcasses, actively hazed wolves with a firearm and pyrotechnics, kept cattle in a fenced pasture within the allotment due to wolf activity, spotlighting nightly, wolf GPS collar data in the area to monitor activity near cattle, used fladry when needed, a RAG box when needed, and several other deterrents in the past. The range rider started patrolling the area prior to the June 1 turnout in 2017, and communicates frequently with the producer and the local Wildlife Conflict Specialist. Information on denning and wolf activity was also shared with the producer, which the producer has avoided those high use wolf areas. Another producer that was involved in one of the three 2016 depredations within the Smackout territory have been using WDFW contracted range riders, sanitation, and removal of injured cattle from the range.”
Conservation Northwest, which has long been involved in helping ranchers in this part of Washington’s wolf country, as well as elsewhere, issued a statement saying it hoped any removals plus the caught-in-the-act take last month would end the attacks on livestock and end the need to kill more wolves.
The organization also said it was “deeply saddened by the loss of these wolves, and for the strife this incident has caused ranchers operating in this area.”
Last year’s depredations occurred in late September and included a confirmed kill of a calf, a probable kill of a calf and a confirmed injury of a calf.
One other calf has been killed by wolves and two injured stretching back to 2015 in the general area.
“The purpose of this action is to change the pack’s behavior, while also meeting the state’s wolf-conservation goals,” the agency’s wolf manager, Donny Martorello, said in a press release this morning. “That means incrementally removing wolves and assessing the results before taking any further action.”
The pack is believed to have numbered eight coming out of 2016, with an unknown number of pups on the ground this year.
“The lethal removal of wolves is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach recovery objectives statewide or within individual wolf recovery regions,” a WDFW statement reads.
This means that for a second summer in a row, agency marksmen will be targeting wolves as Washington’s population continues to grow at about a 30-percent-a-year clip. Last year it was the Profanity Peaks, while previous removals occurred in 2014 (Huckleberry) and 2012 (Wedge).