An after-action report from Washington wolf managers says that taking out two wolves this summer along with efforts to prevent their pack from tangling with grazing cattle appears to have worked.
WDFW says that if the Smackout Pack doesn’t cause any more depredations through Sept. 30, their evaluation period will end and the lethal removal protocol will, in essence, reset to two in a rolling 10-month period. Four would be the new trigger.
But if an attack does occur before the end of the month, they may go back in for another round.
The agency’s 94-page final report was issued yesterday — 53 days since the second removal and 61 since the last depredation by the Stevens-Pend Oreille County pack — and will add another data point to the ongoing debate over whether killing wolves helps to quell attacks on cattle and other stock.
“The collaboration between WDFW personnel and the livestock producers, the approach highlighted in the protocol of both proactive and responsive nonlethal deterrents, and the incremental removal, appeared to have the intended effect of changing the Smackout Pack behavior to reduce the probability of reoccurring depredations while continuing to promote recovery,” it states near the end.
At the start of this year’s grazing season, it was believed there were 13 to 15 members in the Smackout Pack, three of which had telemetry collars.
The pack has been the subject of heavy deterrence efforts over the years, but it was blamed for killing three calves and injuring two others belonging to three different producers in attacks in late September 2016 and July 2017.
Four of the five depredations were confirmed and one was probable.
WDFW’s report provides the usual graphic details from those investigations, as well as more about the two wolves that were removed after Director Jim Unsworth’s July 20 authorization.
The first was a 30-pound “young of the year” female that was captured and euthanized two days after a calf was injured on Forest Service land.
The second was a 70-pound adult female removed on July 30.
“Both removals occurred within the 14-day window from the time of depredation, thereby having the most impact on changing the behavior of the pack,” the report states, referring to a study coauthored by researchers in the Northern Rockies. “The removals occurred within a short distance (one mile) from the livestock in an effort to provide the greatest influence on pack behavior related to livestock interactions.”
However, subsequent to putting the pup down, WDFW made a decision to only kill adult wolves (the collared breeding female is off limits).
A third wolf was legally killed in late June by a range rider when it was caught in the act of “chasing and posing an imminent threat” to cattle in a fenced pasture, the first time that provision has been employed in the state.
The report notes nonlethal deterrence work was being performed in the neighborhood of the pack not only this year but in recent grazing seasons as well.
“For approximately four years prior to confirmed depredations in the Smackout wolf pack territory, WDFW had been working with producers on both public and private lands to deter potential wolf depredations. These efforts included increased human presence near livestock on large grazing allotments. Other deterrents measures utilized over the past several years included sharing Wolf GPS collar data including information on den and rendezvous locations with applicable producers, sanitation (removal of livestock carcasses), fladry, fox lights, WDFW field personnel working with USFS range personnel, and monitoring by WDFW personnel,” the report states.
In other Washington wolf news:
- WDFW reports that all’s quiet on the Sherman Pack front following a series of depredations and one removal.
- There may — or may not — be a new pack in Okanogan County. It’s unclear if two pups and an adult spotted on a trail camera southeast of Oroville are the nearby Beaver Creek Pack or an as-yet-to-be-determined group of wolves.
- An ethics complaint has been filed by a public employees group against a state representative alleging the lawmaker used his position to withhold funding for a university over a researcher’s wolf work.
- And an opinion piece out this week in High Country News and headlined “Rural communities can coexist with wolves. Here’s how” focuses on the collaborative approach to dealing with the recovery of wolves in Washington.