Tag Archives: Livestock depredation

Next Washington Wolf Count Likely To Show Increase, Possibly Sharp Jump

An out-of-state environmental group is trying to minimize the number of wolves running around Washington, but the year-end tally is likely to be significantly higher than their “approximately 120.”

That figure comes from a pressure ad by the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity that appeared in the Seattle Times and is aimed at getting the governor to force WDFW to stop killing wolves in response to repeated livestock depredations.


It comes as the two parties are locked in a court battle over the state’s lethal removal protocols for wolves.

Twenty have been taken out by WDFW since 2012, an average of just three a year as Washington’s gray wolf population has more than doubled, but it still might have been the inspiration for a Central Puget Sound lawmaker to prefile a bill for the 2019 session along those exact same lines a couple days later.

Ultimately it all may backfire.

In response to CBD’s estimate, instate wolf advocates are indicating that there may actually be more than 150 wolves in Washington these days — even 200.

That higher number comes from Mitch Friedman, head of Conservation Northwest, which put out the lower figure in a post that Friedman shared publicly and in doing so offered his own guesstimate.

Those would be 23 to 64 percent increases over the official 2017 minimum (122).

The former is unsurprising, given the longterm 30 percent annual growth rate, and while the latter may seem shocking it is not outside the realm of possibility any more.

WDFW’s 2018 count probably won’t come out until March, like it has for the past five years, but for the first time wolf poop could help provide a much more accurate estimate of how many animals are really out there.

Earlier this year a University of Washington researcher was awarded a $172,000 grant from the state legislature to run his dung-detection dogs through areas where the number of public wolf reports has grown but no packs let alone breeding pairs were known to exist.

“If there are wolves south of I-90, the odds of the dogs locating them should be quite high,” Dr. Samuel Wasser, who heads up UW’s Center for Conservation Biology, told me for an April story. “Colonizing wolves range widely, our dogs can cover huge areas, and their ability to detect samples if present is extraordinary.”

With the 2018 field season over, the samples are now in the lab and being analyzed, and the data will also provide information on diet.

“It will be a little while because we are moving to Next Generation Sequencing, which allows us to simultaneously identify the carnivore scats and what they ate in a single run,” Wasser said by email this week.

Up to this year, WDFW’s year-end count has been a mix of collaring individual wolves and then locating them and their packs again in winter, when they’re easier to track or spot in the snow from the air, monitoring breeding pairs and collecting imagery from a network of trail cameras.

The agency has stressed that their annual tallies were just minimums, that there were likely more wolves on the landscape that had eluded them, and hunters have generally believed there to be many more than official figures.

So using DNA this new information could provide a closer estimate of the state’s actual population, not to mention possibly help us get to the wolf management plan’s recovery goals sooner.

As of this past March there was just one known breeding pair in the Northern Cascades Zone, the Teanaway Pack, and none in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast Zone.

Under the plan there must be four in each, but since that count there have been tantalizing public reports around Granite Falls, the northwest side of Mt. Rainier, and Stampede and White Passes.

Wasser says the new method for testing wolf doots his dogs find is just about dialed in, with results likely available later in winter.

“We are close to having it validated, using sample previously run using our old method from Northeast Washington,” he says. “Once that’s done, we will move forward with the Central Washington samples. That should move pretty quickly once we’re at the stage. We hope to finish the validations this month. If all goes well, we aim to have all our results by the end of February (or March), although that could be optimistic.”

The results could arrive just about the time that the Center for Biological Diversity and WDFW attend a court hearing for CBD’s lawsuit over the state’s development of the removal protocols. Both parties are due before Thurston County Superior Court Judge John C. Skinder on March 8 to review documents submitted in support of their arguments and determine when to set a trial.

By that time, it’s pretty likely that Rep. Sherry Appleton’s (D-Bainbridge) HB 1045, which would bar WDFW from killing cattle- and sheep-killing wolves and — hilariously — instead require the agency to relocate them, will have died without a committee hearing.

But not before it offered Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) yet another chance to needle Westside wolfies, this time to mull introducing a counter measure to designate Appleton’s island a wolf preserve.

In other Washington wolf news, in October WDFW issued a notice that it was beginning a periodic review of the species.

“Based on the information collected and reviewed, the department will make recommendations to maintain the species current listing status as endangered or reclassify species to sensitive, threatened, or other status,” the agency stated.

Public comment will be announced later.

And late this morning WDFW announced a confirmed wolf depredation of a calf on its Chiliwist Wildlife Area, part of the Sinlahekin complex.

The 400-pound animal was among a herd of cattle that had just been brought off of DNR land on Nov. 27 to a traditional gathering site on WDFW land and was found dead the next day.

The producer was advised to cover the carcass and did so, and on the 29th, an examination of the remains revealed typical wolf wounds along with the tracks of a single.

The incident occurred in the still-federally listed part of the state, in or very close to the Loup Loups’ territory, but in detailing the attack, WDFW did not attribute it that pack.

“No collared wolves were present in the area at the time of the depredation,” the agency stated.

It would be one of the latest if not the latest attack to occur in any year since wolves began recolonizing the state.

ODFW To Begin Incremental Removals Of Another Livestock-killing Pack, Meachams


ODFW has confirmed four livestock depredations by the Meacham Wolf Pack of Umatilla County this month, all to the same livestock producer in the same privately-owned pasture. This is despite dedicated and substantial proactive non-lethal efforts to stop wolf-livestock conflict.

The producer has removed dead livestock carcasses from the property the same day they were discovered; monitored and removed animals that were weak or could be a target of wolves; employed a range rider five days per week to monitor the location of wolves in the pasture and maintain human presence; modified their normal husbandry practices by putting larger, more mature calves in the pasture; and delayed pasture turnout for 30 days so calves were larger and to give wolves more time to move out of the area.

Additionally, the producer has undertaken a speedy and expensive relocation of many of the cattle from the pasture where wolves are depredating. Normally, this private pasture would be used until October, but nearly 90 percent of cattle that typically use the area have been moved. Finally, for the past two years, the producer has chosen not to use their sheep grazing allotment on national forestland adjacent to the pasture to avoid potential wolf depredations.

ODFW received a lethal control request from the producer on Aug. 21, after the fourth confirmed depredation this month. (An additional two depredations occurred in August 2016 and September 2014.) The producer requested that the entire pack be killed but ODFW has decided to take an incremental approach instead and has authorized the killing of two wolves from the pack initially to limit further depredations.

While lethal removal will not target specific wolves in the pack, pups born this year will not be targeted. The Meacham pack is believed to have at least four pups this year, and has been a breeding pair (meaning at least two adults and two pups born in April survived through the end of the year) each year since 2014. At the end of 2016, the pack had seven members. There is no working radio-collar in the pack at this time, after one collar failed in November 2015 and another collared wolf dispersed from the pack in December 2015.  During August and September 2015, 50 percent of the radio-collar locations of the two collared wolves were on the same piece of private land where the depredations are now occurring.

“For years, this producer has proactively implemented non-lethal measures and tolerated the challenges of a wolf pack frequenting their property during the grazing season. Unfortunately, this year their increasing preventative efforts have not been successful in limiting wolf depredation,” said Roblyn Brown, ODFW Acting Wolf Coordinator. “We believe lethal control is warranted in this situation but this action will only be in place as long as cattle are still at risk. We will use incremental removal and lethal control activities will be stopped as soon as the cattle are removed from the pasture.”

When non-lethal deterrence measures are not sufficient, the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan allows for lethal control as a tool to address continuing depredation. At the request of a producer or permittee, ODFW can consider lethal control of wolves under these circumstances: if ODFW confirms at least two depredations of livestock; if the requester documents unsuccessful attempts to solve the situation thru non-lethal means; if no identified circumstance exists that attracts wolf-livestock conflict; and if the requester has complied with applicable laws and the conditions of any harassment or take permit.

ODFW may kill the two wolves but the department will also provide the producer with a limited duration Wolf Kill Permit. This permit allows the producer to kill the two adult or sub-adult wolves (not pups) on the private land where depredations have occurred and does not require the wolf to be “caught in the act” of biting, wounding, killing or chasing livestock. Among other terms of the permit, non-lethal measures must continue and there can be no attractants (such as bone piles) on the property that might attract wolves.

After the initial lethal take of two wolves, the situation will be monitored to determine if further depredations or testing/chasing of livestock occur and additional lethal control is needed.

ODFW is also currently engaged in a lethal control operation for the Harl Butte Wolf Pack in Wallowa County, also due to chronic livestock depredation. To date the agency has taken three wolves out of that pack.

ODFW has documented four new wolf pairs raising pups in northeast Oregon this summer, including one new pair pioneering an area south of I-84 in the Starkey and Ukiah WMUs. “Oregon’s wolf population continues to expand in both number and range,” said Curt Melcher, ODFW Director. “Unfortunately, we are also seeing an increase in livestock depredation from a few wolf packs, which is not surprising due to the increasing population.”

“While it’s disheartening for some people to see ODFW killing wolves, our agency is called to manage wildlife in a manner consistent with other land uses, and to protect the social and economic interests of all Oregonians while it conserves gray wolves,” Melcher added. “It’s important that we address and limit wolf-livestock problems while also ensuring a healthy wolf population. Lethal control is identified in the Oregon Wolf Plan as a needed tool we use when non-lethal measures alone are unsuccessful in resolving conflict.”

“I am authorizing only incremental take in an effort to take as few wolves as possible while still addressing wolf-livestock conflict,” Melcher added. “Following these actions, the situation will be reassessed to see if the goal of reducing depredations has been achieved.”

ODFW will update this news release and its wolf webpages when the initial lethal action is taken or when there are significant changes in the situation. Any further confirmed or probable depredations for this or other packs will be posted on the Wolf-Livestock webpage. Members of the public interested in these updates should subscribe by email to the Wolf Updates Page and/or the Wolf-Livestock page.