Tag Archives: SMACKOUT PACK

So How Many Wolves Are There Actually In Washington?

Are there twice as many wolves running around parts of Washington as WDFW’s minimum count suggests?

It seems more likely in the wake of a state Senate committee work session on the species Tuesday afternoon.

Information from it is giving Washington wolf world observers a chance to compare WDFW’s figures for parts of two northeastern counties with how many wolves that dung dog-gathered data says were actually there at the time.

Dung dogs would be canines that the University of Washington’s Dr. Samuel Wasser et al have trained to find scat. They’re so good that they can smell Puget Sound orca ordure a mile away, Wasser told senators.

On dry land between April 2015 and February 2016, they helped researchers sniff out 4,685 piles of poo in wild portions of Pend Oreille and Stevens Counties.

A MAP FROM DR. SAMUEL WASSER’S PRESENTATION TO A WASHINGTON SENATE COMMITTEE SHOWS THE ROUTES THAT HIS SPECIALLY TRAINED DUNG-DETECTION DOGS RAN IN AREAS OF STEVENS AND PEND OREILLE COUNTIES IN 2015 AND EARLY 2016, A PERIOD DURING WHICH FIVE KNOWN WOLF PACKS OCCURRED IN THE AREA. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

Their survey area that season overlapped the territories of the Smackout, Dirty Shirt, Carpenter Ridge, Goodman Meadows and Skookum Packs.

With 3,917 of the samples subsequently analyzed in the lab so far, 1,878 (48%) were determined to be coyote crap, 714 (18%) to be bobcat BMs, 541 (14%) to be wolf waste, 323 (8%) to be black bear brownies and 212 (5%) to be mountain lion leavings.

What the remaining 7 percent was wasn’t clear, but the scat not only told researchers what species excreted it (as well as what they’d been, er, wolfing down), but also allowed them to genetically identify the specific animal from whose alimentary canal it exited.

While counting wolves has been an inexact science up to this point, Wasser told members of Sen. Kevin Van De Wege’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee they were able to determine that those 541 wolf samples were left by 60 different individual wolves.

WASSER’S PRESENTATION OVERLAYS WOLF SCAT WITH KNOWN WOLF PACK LOCATIONS. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

He said his abundance estimate for the area between spring 2015 through midwinter 2016 was 68.

Now, it’s not quite apples to apples, more like apples to pears, but that timing does allow us to compare his findings with some from WDFW’s 2015 year-end count, which came out in early 2016.

The state agency estimated that the packs that left all that poop numbered at least 30 wolves — eight in Smackout, eight in Dirty Shirt, two in Carpenter, seven in Goodman and five in Skookum.

Thirty is, I want to stress, a minimum number, the confirmed headcount, but it is also a lot fewer than 60, let alone 68.

Hunters and others have long suspected that there are more wolves running around than WDFW’s minimum, and the evidence collected by scat-sniffing dogs from just one part of the state, albeit a wolf-heavy one, seems to bear that out.

So how might the state agency explain such a big numerical difference?

Partially it’s that this is a different, more precise way to count wolves than how WDFW has had funding to do it — collaring wolves and trying to find them and their packies later on.

But some of Wasser’s 60 known animals could have been pups born in spring 2015, defecated all over, but didn’t survive to the end of the year to be counted during the state’s aerial surveys.

They could have been dispersers from elsewhere that, say, ate a 49 Degrees North deer/moose/elk/cow/bird/rodent/snowshoe hare/etc., left a dropping or two and continued on their journey out of the area.

They could have been born to one of the packs, learned how to hunt and subsequently dispersed before biologists buzzed around that winter in the Cessna.

They could have been poached — state game wardens did find evidence that a man illegally killed at least two members of the Goodman Meadows Pack prior to a March 2016 search warrant on his cabin.

And it’s possible that at least three if not more of WDFW’s nine listed known lone/miscellaneous wolves in the greater Eastern Recovery Zone at the end of 2015 were in this area during the survey, so it’s the known 30 plus that many more.

Still, it’s eye-opening, and what’s more Wasser also told senators that during the following field season his dogs found evidence of at least 92 wolves in the same area, and he estimated there were 95 there then.

He said that between the two sessions of fieldwork, they found evidence of 114 unique wolves there.

The bottom line?

Later this winter WDFW will release its 2018 year-end minimum count. That figure is likely to be a lot higher than 2017’s 122, and it may also include new packs from a whole new area of Washington.

While state wolf managers have yet to confirm there are any wolves in the South Cascades, thanks to legislative funding, last year Wasser’s dogs found potential evidence in northwestern Yakima County and multiple parts of Skamania County.

ANOTHER SLIDE FROM WASSER’S PRESENTATION SHOWS ROUTES HIS DUNG-DETECTION DOGS RAN IN THE CENTRAL AND SOUTH CASCADES AND WHERE THEY FOUND POTENTIAL WOLF POOP THAT IS NOW UNDERGOING FINAL ANALYSIS WITH RESULTS EXPECTED SOON. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

Those feces are now undergoing final analysis with results expected soon, but if “potential wolf” droppings the dung dogs found in the known Teanaway Pack territory are any indication, it seems possible there may be a pack or two in the South Cascades.

Yes, wolves, wolf impacts and wolf people are pains in the ass to manage, but having four successful breeding pairs there is important to reaching the recovery goals that begin statewide delisting processes, and the sooner that occurs the better.

Well, the better for everyone except the groups that are trying to keep the species under kid-glove management, including through an upcoming court case against WDFW.

But this new data strengthens the argument that there are far more wolves in Washington, they’re likely far more widespread and they’re far, far more resilient than Arizona’s Center for Biological Diversity etc., want you to know.

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part III

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and then June through September. Below we wrap up with October through December.

OCTOBER

Oregon began offering big game preference points instead of just cold, hard cash for those who help state troopers arrest or cite fish and wildlife poachers. The new option in the Turn In a Poacher program awards five points for cases involving bighorns, mountain goats, moose and wolves; four for elk, deer, antelope, mountain lions and bears. While the points all have to go to either elk, buck, antlerless deer, pronghorn or spring black bear series hunts, it significantly raises the odds of being drawn for coveted controlled permits.

OSP SENIOR TROOPER DARIN BEAN POSES WITH THE HEADS OF THREE TROPHY BUCKS POACHED IN THE GREATER SILVER LAKE AREA. (OSP)

The lowest catch station recorded the highest haul when the Columbia-Snake 2018 pikeminnow sport-reward program wrapped up this fall. “It is the first time in the Pikeminnow Program’s 28-year history that the Cathlamet station has been the number one location,” noted Eric Winther, who heads up the state-federal effort aimed at reducing predation on salmonid smolts. With 25,135 turned in there, Cathlamet accounted for 14 percent of the overall catch of 180,309 pikeminnow this year. Boyer Park produced the second most, 22,950, while usual hot spot The Dalles was third with 22,461, less than half of 2017’s tally.

Using DNA from northern pike, USFS researcher Dr. Kellie Carim turned the widespread assumption about where the fish that have invaded Washington came from on its head. “The history we’ve told ourselves, the simplest explanation, is that the fish are flowing downstream from Western Montana,” Carim told us in early fall. “However, what the genetic analysis says is that those in Lake Roosevelt and the Pend Oreille River are closely related to those in the Couer d’Alene drainage.” In other words, a bucket biologist or biologists drove them between the watersheds. Also on the invasive species front, earlier in the year, scientists began to suspect that Sooke Harbor was not the source of the European green crabs showing up in Puget Sound waters but from somewhere on the Northwest’s outer coast.

SPECIALISTS FROM WASHINGTON SEA GRANT AND THE MAKAH TRIBE CONSIDER WHERE TO SET TRAPS IN AN ESTUARY FOR EUROPEAN GREEN CRABS. (WSG)

Oregon and Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commissions were urged not to roll back the Columbia River salmon reforms by no less than the former governor who got the ball rolling. “There’s absolutely no reason to change right now, it makes no sense,” said Oregon’s John Kitzhaber in one of several short videos that came out ahead of indepth reviews for the citizen panels.

IN A NEW VIDEO, FORMER GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER URGES VIEWERS TO MAINTAIN THE COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON REFORMS.

With salvaging roadkilled deer and elk in Oregon set to begin Jan. 1, 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted regulations for how the program will work. It’s similar to Washington’s, except that antlers and heads must be turned in to any ODFW office (here are addresses and phone numbers of the two dozen across the state) within five business days and Columbian whitetail deer may be salvaged, but only in Douglas County, where the species was declared recovered in 2003.

Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer resigned after a distasteful photo of him with a dead “family of baboons” surfaced following an African safari with his wife. Fischer initially defended his actions, telling the Idaho Statesman, “I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral.” In accepting Fischer’s requested resignation, Gov. Butch Otter stated, “Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not.”

FORMER IDAHO FISH AND GAME COMMISSIONER BLAKE FISCHER OF MERIDIAN RESIGNED AFTER GOVERNOR BUTCH OTTER REQUESTED HE DO SO. (IDFG)

This year’s return of coho to the Columbia River was woeful at best, but there was a glimmer of good news when the Nez Perce announced that the first adult in more than 50 years returned to Northeast Oregon, thanks to a joint tribal-ODFW release of half a million smolts in March 2017. At least 125 had arrived at a weir on the Lostine River as of earlier this month, and tribal fisheries manager Becky Johnson estimated there were 800 more still on their way at that point.

FEMALE COHO TRAPPED AT THE LOSTINE RIVER WEIR ON OCTOBER 26, 2018 — THE FIRST SINCE 1966. (NEZ PERCE TRIBE)

With small, 2- to 3-inch razor clams dominating the population in Clatsop County’s sands, Oregon shellfish managers with support from the public decided to postpone harvesting any until this coming March, in hopes they would be larger by then. On the north side of the Columbia River, Washington’s Long Beach will only see a limited opener this season due to low salinity levels in winter 2017 that affected survival and led to a higher concentration of small clams.

OREGON SHELLFISH MANAGERS SAY ITS NORTHERN RAZOR CLAM POPULATION IS ON THE SMALL SIDE AND SEASON WAS POSTPONED TILL MARCH. (ODFW)

WDFW’s new Director Kelly Susewind hit the highway, the airwaves and the interweb to flesh out his thinking on hot-button fish and wildlife issues, set the tone for what his priorities are going forward, and listen to the needs of sportsmen and Washington residents. He hosted half a dozen meetings across the state, appeared on TVW’s Inside Olympia and did a webinar as the agency tried to build support for its $67 million ask of the legislature in 2019.

It wasn’t just small clams on the Oregon Coast sparking concerns — low early returns and catches of fall Chinook led ODFW to restrict fishing from the Necanicum to the Siuslaw, closing all the rivers above tidewater and reducing limits in the bays from three to one for the season. When subsequent surveys began to show more fish arriving on the spawning grounds, sections of the lower Siletz then Alsea and Yaquina Rivers were reopened, but further south, it wasn’t until late November before ODFW was able to lift gear restrictions on the low-flowing Chetco and Winchuck Rivers.

NOVEMBER

Western Washington tribes launched an ambitious, coordinated, long-term effort to identify and restore key salmon habitats as well as gauge land-use decisions in the region. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s Tribal Habitat Strategy was described by chair Lorraine Loomis as an “effort … based on what we know is actually needed to achieve ecosystem health, not what we think is possible to achieve given current habitat conditions.”

THE COVER OF THE NORTHWEST INDIAN FISHERIES COMMISSION’S NEW “TRIBAL HABITAT STRATEGY” REPORT SHOWS A KITSAP COUNTY CULVERT ON CARPENTER CREEK THAT HAS SINCE BEEN REMOVED, IMPROVING FISH PASSAGE AND ESTUARY FUNCTION. (NWIFC)

Cattle depredations that seemed like they’d never end in Northeast Washington led to essentially three different lethal wolf removal operations ongoing at once, two by WDFW targeting all the remaining OPT wolves and one Smackout Pack member, and one by a producer for any Togo wolves in their private pastures. By year-end at least four wolves had been killed by state shooters in hopes of reducing livestock attacks, and the Capital Press reported at least 31 calves and cows had been confirmed to have been either killed or injured by wolves in 2018, “more than double any previous year.”

LIFE COULD BE WORSE — YOU COULD GROW A BUCK ON YOUR BUTT … OR AT LEAST HAVE A TRAIL CAMERA RECORD SOMETHING ALONG THOSE LINES. THIS UNUSUAL ALIGNMENT WAS RECORDED AT A WASHINGTON WILDLIFE AREA IN THE NORTHEAST CORNER OF THE STATE DURING THE FALL RUT. (WDFW)

Significantly increasing Chinook abundance to help out starving orcas was among the key recommendations Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force voted to forward to Governor Jay Inslee after months of discussion and public comment. Members also urged suspending southern resident killer whale watching for all fleets — commercial, recreational, kayak, rubber dingy, etc., etc., etc. — for the next three to five years. The recommendations were generally supported by sportfishing reps who took part in the task force’s work. “Production needs to be ramped up immediately, and follow the recovery/ESA sidebars in the recommendations,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who also expressed concern about “organizations who will file lawsuits to fight increased production no matter how thoughtfully done and no matter how dire the need.”

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS EARLIER THIS MONTH. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

IDFG Director Virgil Moore announced that he was retiring in January after eight years at the helm of Idaho fish and wildlife management and a four-decade-long career in the field, including a year as ODFW’s director. “Working together, Fish and Game and our wildlife resources are in excellent shape and ready to be handed off to new leadership,” he said in a press release. Fellow Fish and Game honcho Ed Schriever was named as Moore’s replacement.

Federal researchers found that one top way to recover Chinook in Puget Sound streams is to restore side channels. Providing space for the young ESA-listed fish to grow as well as shelter from flood flows adds complexity to river systems, increasing its potential value as habitat. The work, some of which was done on the Cedar River, could help answer where and how to get the best bang for restoration dollars. In a related story, for the first time since the project wrapped up in 2014, a pair of kings chose to spawn in a portion of a Seattle stream that had been engineered for salmon to dig redds. “That’s a vote of confidence!” said a utility district biologist.

A SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITY IMAGE SHOWS A PAIR OF CHINOOK SALMON ON THE GRAVEL OF LOWER THORNTON CREEK, EAST OF NORTHGATE MALL. (SPU)

With the threat of a federal lawsuit hanging over their heads, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted in mid-November to suspend steelhead season in early December. IDFG’s permit to hold the fishery had expired nearly 10 years ago and other priorities had kept NMFS from issuing a new one, providing an opening for yet another low-hanging-fruit lawsuit from the usual suspects. “The loss of that opportunity, even temporarily, due to a lawsuit and unprocessed permit is truly regrettable,” said Virgil Moore in a letter to Idaho steelheaders. The pending closure didn’t affect Washington fishermen angling the shared Snake, and it led one of the six litigant groups to subsequently back out, saying its goal of spurring the feds into action had been achieved. But on the eve of the shutdown, an agreement was reached between a newly formed group of anglers and towns, Idaho River Community Alliance, IDFG and the other five parties. It kept fishing open, closed stretches of the South Fork Clearwater and Salmon, and included voluntary measures.

A LAST-MINUTE AGREEMENT KEPT STEELHEADING OPEN ON THE NORTH FORK CLEARWATER AND OTHER IDAHO STREAMS FOLLOWING A THREATENED FEDERAL LAWSUIT OVER A LACK OF A FISHERIES PERMIT. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The federal Fourth National Climate Assessment, released over Thanksgiving weekend, painted a rough go of it for fish, shellfish and wildlife in the Northwest. It projected that Washington salmon habitat will be reduced by 22 percent under a scenario that includes continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, razor clamming would decline “due to cumulative effects of ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, higher temperatures, and habitat degradation,” and that more management to ensure sufficient waterfowl habitat would be needed. The report, required by Congress, did say deer and elk may actually thrive due to less winterkill and improving habitat because of increased wildfires, but could also be impacted by “increases in disease and disease-carrying insects and pests.”

ODFW launched its new electronic license program, so easy that even hook-and-bullet magazine editors can (eventually) figure it out. Essentially, the app allows sportsmen to carry an e-version of their fishing and hunting licenses on their phones, etc., as well as tag critters and fill in punch cards with an app that works even offline in Oregon’s remote canyons.

In what would also be a continuing news story in the year’s final month, ODFW received federal permission to lethally remove as many as 93 California sea lions annually at Willamette Falls and in the lower Clackamas. “This is good news for the native runs of salmon and steelhead in the Willamette River,” said ODFW’s Dr. Shaun Clements, whose agency had estimated that if nothing were done, there was a 90 percent chance one of the watershed’s wild winter steelhead runs would go extinct. “We did put several years’ effort into non-lethal deterrence, none of which worked. The unfortunate reality is that, if we want to prevent extinction of the steelhead and Chinook, we will have to lethally remove sea lions at this location,” he said in a press release.

And near the end of the month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 196 to 180 to fully delist gray wolves in the Lower 48. But that was as far as the Manage our Wolves Act, co-sponsored by two Eastern Washington Republicans, was going to get, as at the end of the year it went nowhere in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works and the incoming chair of the House Natural Resources Committee flatly told a reporter that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years. Meanwhile, WDFW and the University of Washington began year three of predator-prey research across the northern tier of Eastern Washington.

A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING FAWN QUARTERS BACK TO A DEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (JEFF FLOOD)

DECEMBER

Poor fishing up and down the West Coast in recent years was among the factors that forced the owners of Ollie Damon’s reel repair shop in Portland to close up for good this month, ending the run of a famed name that first opened for business in the late 1940s. “It’s sad for us but we can’t work forever,” said Rich and Susan Basch who bought the shop in the 1990s and used to service as many as 5,000 to 6,000 reels annually, and who said that they’ll miss their customers “immensely” as they also retire.

PORTLAND’S OLLIE DAMON’S CLOSEd ITS DOORS DEC. 29, MARKING THE END OF AN ERA. (OLLIE DAMON’S)

We’ll know a lot more about 2019 salmon expectations later in winter, but the year’s first forecasts came out in early December, with Columbia River managers expecting an overall run of 157,500 springers, 35,900 summer kings, and 99,300 of the red salmon, all below 10-year averages but no surprise given recent ocean conditions. The outlook for upriver brights is similar to 2018, with tule Chinook below the 10-year average, but with spring’s offshore survey finding good numbers of young coho in the ocean and a strong jack return to the river this fall, there is some potential good news for silver slayers.

The poaching of one of Oregon’s rare moose north of Enterprise in November led to a handsome reward offer of not only $7,500 at last check but a guided elk hunt on the nearby Krebs Ranch, a $3,500 value in itself. “The poaching of a moose is a tragic thing,” said Jim Akenson of the Oregon Hunters Association, chapters of which stepped up to build the reward fund. “Especially because our moose population is low – fewer than 70 in Oregon.” This is at least the second moose poached in Northeast Oregon in recent years. Thadd J. Nelson was charged in early 2015 with unlawfully killing one in mid-2014. He was later killed by robbers.

OREGON’S MOOSE POPULATION WAS LAST ESTIMATED AT 75 OR SO. (PAT MATTHEWS, ODFW)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee touted an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his proposed 2019-21 budget. It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts, a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, and $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries (hopefully testing generators more frequently!). Inslee’s budget, which must still be passed by lawmakers, also includes the fee increase but $15 million WDFW asked for for conservation and habitat work was pared down to just $1.3 million for the former.

With the significance of Chinook for orcas in the spotlight of course a mid-December windstorm would knock out power to a state hatchery, and when the backup generator failed to immediately kick in, around 6 million fall and spring fry died. That angered fishermen and killer whale advocates alike, and led to a rare statement by a WDFW director, Kelly Susewind on the “painful loss.” As an outside investigation is launched into what exactly what went wrong, up to 2.75 million fish from a mix of state, tribal and tech college hatcheries were identified as possible replacements, pending buy-in from several more tribes.

SALMON INCUBATION TRAYS AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

Federal, state and tribal officials agreed to a three-year trial to see if increasing spill down the Columbia and Snake Rivers can “significantly boost” outmigrating salmon and steelhead smolt numbers. The agreement came after early in the year U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon ordered spill to occur and Eastern Washington House of Representatives members tried to kill it. Testing begins this coming April — “It can’t happen soon enough,” said NSIA’s Hamilton.

WDFW’S FIRST KARELIAN BEAR DOG, MISHKA, PASSED AWAY LATE IN THE YEAR. HANDLER “BRUCE (RICHARDS) SAID OF MISHKA THAT WHAT HE ACCOMPLISHED IN ONE YEAR WAS AKIN TO WHAT ONE WILDLIFE OFFICER COULD ACCOMPLISH IN A LIFETIME OF WORK,” BEAR SMART WA POSTED ON INSTAGRAM. THE DUO HAD A LONG CAREER OF CHASING BEARS AND HELPING ON POACHING CASES IN GREATER PUGETROPOLIS. ALSO IN 2018, ANOTHER WDFW KBD DOG, CASH, DIED FOLLOWING A BATTLE AGAINST PROSTRATE CANCER. (WDFW)

And finally, and in probably the best news of the whole damn year — which is why we saved it to last, but also because it happened so late in 2018 — the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act was signed into law by President Trump after zipping through the Senate and House this month. With bipartisan leadership from Northwest lawmakers and support from the DFWs, tribes and fishing community among others, the bill essentially provides up to five one-year permits to kill as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia River and its salmon-bearing tributaries. Not that that many likely will be taken out, but this should FINALLY help address too many pinnipeds taking too big a bite out of ESA-listed stocks and help keep one of their new favorite targets, sturgeon, from ending up on the list too.

And with that, I’m calling it a year on this three-part year in review — read the first chunk, covering January through May here, and the second, June through September, here.

Take care, and happy new year!

AW
NWS

Washington Wolves, Ranchers, Ideas In The News

As Washington wolf managers report taking out one member of a cattle-depredating pack and suspending efforts to kill the last two in another, a pair of in-depth reports on the issues around managing the rangy predators are also in the news this week.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

They’re much better pieces than the usual slap-dash broad-brush strokes passed off as wolf reporting in these pages and elsewhere these days.

KREM 2 in Spokane interviews and brings together rancher Ron Eslick of Ferry County, whose cattle have unfortunately fed the Togo Pack, and two representatives from The Lands Council of Spokane who have an idea for restoring old meadows throughout the Colville National Forest with an eye towards grazing.

It wasn’t immediately clear how that bid might fit into the just revised forest plan, but allotments are key for livestock producers, allowing them to cut their home pastures in summer to build up a winter store of hay while their cow-calf pairs bulk up in the forested mountains, but the arrival of wolves have led to conflict between the critters as well as people.

At the tip of the spear is Ferry, Stevens and Benton Counties’ Diamond M, said to be the state’s largest ranch and which is the subject of a 2,600-word article in the Capital Press.

It charts the McIrvin family’s history on the range back to the late 1940s when members drove their cattle into the mountains of Northeast Washington in old Army trucks, but how what worked for the ranch founders and next generation or two isn’t working anymore with pack upon pack after pack settling in.

They feel like they’re not going to win the popularity contest that essentially pits the Old West against a species in the internet age widely adored around the world. A fellow producer says that if the Diamond M goes down, it would be a “humongous trophy” for environmental groups, like those that vowed the national forests would be “Cattle Free by ’93.”

In the background is WDFW, whose new director is not entirely happy with the repeated conflicts.

He termed the lethal removal protocols in place the last two seasons “pretty conservative” and while “not saying we need to make it easy to kill wolves, but as soon as we can get into a routine of managing, I think things will go better,” in another Press article.

Interesting reads.

Togo, Smackout Packs Now In Crosshairs For Continued Cattle Depredations

The clock is ticking on two more wolf packs in Northeast Washington.

WDFW this morning authorized the lethal removal of the last two members of one pack and one or two from another after continued depredations.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATIONS OF THE TOGO AND SMACKOUT PACKS. THE OLD PROFANITY TERRITORY PACK RUNS TO THE SOUTH OF THE TOGOS. (WDFW)

Both operations can begin tomorrow morning at 8 after an eight-hour waiting period due to a previous court order passes.

With a third pack also in the crosshairs for total removal, in a twist, the kill order for the Togo duo was given to a northern Ferry County livestock producer, his family and employees to carry out if they see the wolves in their private pasture.

WDFW says the OK was given because the previous removal of the breeding male in September didn’t change the pack’s depredating behaviors.

The breeding female and/or a juvenile injured a calf in late October. The pack also is blamed for seven other injured or killed calves and a cow since last November.

The state wildlife management agency has shouldered the burden of removals in the past, but with three lethal operations underway at once, Susewind “decided to issue a permit rather than having department staff conduct the removal because of limitations of resources.”

As WDFW attempts to kill the last two Old Profanity Territory wolves further south in Ferry County, it will also be gunning for the Smackouts to the east in northern Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties.

Susewind OKed incremental removals after a fifth attack since Aug. 1 by the pack, all on private pastures.

The latest occurred Nov. 1 and followed three in the last three weeks of October.

An agency statement sent out during Election Night outlined the preventative measures two producers have been using to try and head off trouble with the Smackouts.

It said that WDFW has been pooling resources with ranchers and a local group to protect stock and deter wolves.

“The affected producer has met the expectation in the wolf plan and 2017 protocol for implementing at least two proactive non-lethal deterrents and responsive deterrent measures,” a statement said.

Two wolves in the pack were removed in 2017 following four depredations in a 10-month period, one of two triggers for considering a kill order under WDFW’s protocols. The other is three attacks in a month.

The state says taking out as many as two members of the Smackout Pack, which has four or five adults and no juveniles, is not expected to impact wolf recover in Washington at all. It says that average wolf mortality between 2011 and 2018 has been 11 percent, well below the 28 percent modeled in the management plan adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Still, signing off on a kill order is no easy decision.

“Authorizing the removal of wolves is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my professional career,” said Susewind in a press release out later in the day. “Our department is committed to working with a diversity of people and interests to find new ways to reduce the loss of both wolves and livestock in our state.”

For more details, see WDFW’s Gray Wolf Updates page.

WDFW Reports More Cattle Depredations By 2 Northeast Washington Packs

Wolves continue to attack cattle in Northeast Washington, with two depredations by the Togos and Smackouts in recent days leaving WDFW mulling what to do next with both packs.

State wolf managers report that the former pack, in northern Ferry County, injured a calf on Oct. 26, while the latter took down a heifer on Halloween, the third cow killed by the northern Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties wolves in the space of two and a half weeks and fourth overall since midsummer.

(WDFW)

That now could trigger incremental lethal removals under the agency’s protocols.

“Director Susewind is reviewing the details of the four depredations by the pack and is considering next steps,” a WDFW statement out this afternoon reads.

The Smackouts have been the subject of intense range-riding and other nonlethal efforts to keep cattle and the pack from tangling for several years now, but in mid-2017 two of its 13 to 15 members at the time were taken out following four depredations in a 10-month period.

As for the Togos, on Oct. 19 WDFW sent out what was to be the last update for the pack after 42 days passed without any known depredations and the removal of the alpha male in early September to change the wolves behavior.

Despite a subsequent attack, WDFW took no action because the agency’s options were poor — the pack included the alpha female and two juveniles.

But the state also said that lethal removals could resume if there was another attack.

Wolf-cattle conflicts have mostly occurred during the summer grazing season on federal allotments, but have also taken place afterwards, typically on private ground.

WDFW Reports On June Wolf Work

June was relatively quiet on Washington’s wolf scene, according to state managers’ monthly report.

WDFW reports capturing two wolves last month, adult males in the Togo and Profanity Peak ranges, and say there were no confirmed livestock depredations as producers moved more than 1,000 cow-calf pairs as well as sheep herds onto Eastside grazing allotments.

DEPREDATION INVESTIGATORS WERE UNABLE TO DETERMINE A CAUSE OF DEATH FOR A PEND OREILLE COUNTY CALF, THE BONES OF WHICH WERE DISCOVERED LAST MONTH. THE CARCASS OF ANOTHER CALF IN NEIGHBORING STEVENS COUNTY WAS ALSO TOO FAR GONE TO FIGURE OUT WHY IT HAD DIED. (WDFW)

They did investigate nine calf, sheep and goat kills in Northeast Washington and King County, finding them to be victims of cougar or, in the latter case, coyote or domestic dog attacks, or that the scenes lacked enough evidence to make any determination of cause of death.

Managers outlined a range of proactive deterrent measures being used on 10 packs, mostly in the state’s wolfy northeastern corner, and said direct hazing was used on the Dirty Shirt and Smackout Packs.

The latter pack has one depredation in the last 10 months; four within a rolling 10-month period (or three within 30 days) could lead to consideration of lethal removals under agreed-to protocols.

The pack closest to that mark is the Togos, which have three since last November 2, which means Sept. 2 is the key date to remember with those two animals.

The Smackouts key date is Aug. 9.

Yesterday saw the expiration of a 10-month window in the Blue Mountains following a Sept. 2 attack on a cow-calf pair by an unknown wolf or wolves.

In Central Washington’s Kittitas County, interactions between the Teanaway Pack and grazing cattle were closely monitored by WDFW and a producer.

The agency also reported it attempted to trap and collar wolves in the Lookout, Huckleberry and Grouse Flats ranges but without success, and planned to try in the Beaver Creek, Five Sisters and Leadpoint Pack boundaries as well.

Following up on public reports, biologists poked around south of I-90 but couldn’t find any tracks or sign.

Still, WDFW “encourages” people to post sightings to its database, saying they “can be very helpful in locating new packs on the landscape.” Confirming wolves in the South Cascades is key to moving toward state delisting goals.

Smackout Pack Strikes Again, Killing Cow

The Smackout Pack appears to be back within one confirmed livestock attack of serious consequences after killing again in early October.

WDFW reports that one or members of the large Northeast Washington pack took down a cow grazing in the Colville National Forest.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE RANGE OF THE SMACKOUT PACK IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON AS OF THIS SUMMER. (WDFW)

The depredation in Stevens County was investigated Oct. 9.

Details are scant – just three sentences reported in the agency’s Oct. 13 update, one of which reads:

“This depredation marks the third wolf depredation by the Smackout pack within the last 10 months and the first within the last 30 days.”

Four confirmed attacks in 10 months or two confirmed and one probable in a month are the triggers for consideration of lethal removals, according to state protocols.

The agency promises more information in its Oct. 20 update.

At the start of this year’s grazing season, June 1, it was believed there were 13 to 15 Smackout wolves, three of which had telemetry collars. The grazing season in this area ended Oct. 15.

After years of relatively good behavior but also increasingly strong efforts needed to head off issues with the wolves, the pack struck twice and probably once more in September 2016, then were confirmed to have injured two calves this July.

One wolf was legally shot in June by a ranchhand when it and another were caught in the act of attacking cattle, and after July’s first depredation, WDFW Director Jim Unsworth authorized incremental lethal removals and two wolves were killed July 20 and July 30.

That and nonlethal work seemed to do the trick of heading problems off, and no further confirmed attacks occurred in August and September, leading WDFW to end removal operations.

A 94-page after-action report stated:

“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.”

The probability of wolf attacks appears to have been reduced for a period of time. Ultimately they struck again.

Smackout Pack Removals Finished, WDFW Says

WDFW is officially mum about a lawsuit filed yesterday over its lethal removal protocols but this afternoon said that operations targeting the Smackout Pack are over due to good behavior by the wolves as the grazing season comes to an end.

“This action was consistent with the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan of 2011 and the department’s current protocol,” wolf manager Donny Martorello said in a press release. “Both policies support the recovery of wolves in our state, while also recognizing the need to address repeated predation on livestock.”

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE SMACKOUT PACK NORTHWEST OF SPOKANE IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (WDFW)

The Smackouts of northern Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties attacked three calves late last September and two more in July, leading to the removals of a 30-pound pup and 75-pound adult female in July.

There have been no further depredations by the large pack since mid-July, more than two months ago.

“Our goal was to change the pack’s behavior, and the break in wolf depredations on livestock is consistent with the desired outcome,” Martorello said. “We’ll continue to track the pack’s movements via GPS signals, but the removal operation is now over.”

Yesterday’s lawsuit was filed in Thurston County Superior Court by the Center for Biological Diversity of Arizona and Cascadia Wildlands of Eugene. It claims WDFW “relied upon a faulty protocol and failed to undergo required environmental analysis” before authorizing lethal removals of the Smackouts as well as Sherman Pack this summer.

WDFW says that three different livestock producers affected by Smackout depredations all were using nonlethal deterrents which were backed up by the agency’s stepped-up efforts to prevent conflicts as well.

“The pack has stayed out of trouble for eight weeks and the summer grazing season is coming to a close,” Martorello said. “If depredations resume, WDFW would revert back to the protocol to assess the time since the previous depredations and assess any further actions.”

2 Removals, Nonlethal Deterrents Appear To Yield ‘Intended Effect’ On Smackout Wolves: WDFW

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.

WDFW’S 94-PAGE FINAL REPORT ON A STRING OF CALF ATTACKS OVER 10 MONTHS BY THE SMACKOUT PACK OF NORTHEAST WASHINGTON INCLUDES DEPREDATION INVESTIGATION RESULTS. (WDFW)

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.

WDFW In Evaluation Period With Smackouts After 2 Removals; No New Depredations Reported

A weekly update from Washington wolf managers yesterday afternoon indicates that, for the moment, things have quieted down in the northeastern corner of the state.

WDFW reports it is now in an evaluation period with the Smackout Pack to see if lethally removing two members following a series of calf depredations that stretch back to late last September can head off more livestock attacks.

A MEMBER OF THE SMACKOUT WOLF PACK OF STEVENS AND PEND OREILLE COUNTIES AWAKES AFTER BEING DRUGGED, EAR TAGGED AND WEIGHED IN LATE MAY 2012. (WDFW)

“The duration of this phase is largely dependent on the behavior of the wolves,” the Aug. 3 update states.

It began July 31.

The agency says there have been no new depredations since July 22, but if another occurs, it may go back in and take out more wolves.

WDFW continues to keep details from northern Stevens County quiet, saying only that it killed the two wolves between July 20, when the operation was announced, and July 30.

Under its lethal removal protocols, incremental removals can be authorized after three confirmed depredations (or two confirmed and a probable) in a rolling 30-day period or four confirmed across a year.

WDFW says that all three producers whose calves have been gnawed on continue to try and keep their stock and wolves from tangling, including the use of range riders, taking dead, sick or injured animals away from the main herd, using fladry or strobe lights and checking on their cattle.

Apparently things have also been quiet with the Sherman Pack, which is sitting on three depredations since June 12.