Tag Archives: wolves

ODFW’s Commission Adopts Updated Wolf Management Plan

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Commission adopted a Wolf Plan at its meeting in Salem in a 6-1 vote after hearing from 44 people who came to testify and reviewing thousands of public comments.

OREGON WOLF TRACKS IN MUD. (ODFW)

Allowing controlled take (limited regulated hunting and trapping of wolves) was one of the most controversial topics in the new Wolf Plan. The original Plan adopted in 2005 allowed for controlled take only in Phase 3 (currently eastern Oregon), in instances of recurring depredations or when wolves are a major cause of ungulate populations not meeting established management objectives or herd management goals. While ODFW believed it needed to remain a tool available for wolf management, the department has not proposed any controlled take of wolves and has no plans to at this time.

Commissioners made some changes related to “controlled take” from the proposed Plan.  An addendum was added clearly stating that “Use of controlled take as a management tool requires Commission approval through a separate public rulemaking process” and the definition of controlled take was modified.

Additional minor changes were made to emphasize the importance of non-lethal tools to address wolf-livestock conflict and easy access to this information. Non-lethal measures to prevent wolf-livestock conflict continue to be emphasized in all phases of the Plan, and required before any lethal control is considered.

After some discussion, Commissioners revised the definition of chronic depredation (which can lead to lethal control of wolves if non-lethals are in use and not working) in Phase 2 and 3 from two confirmed depredations with no specific time frame to two confirmed depredations in nine months.

The Wolf Plan will be filed with the Secretary of State and posted on the ODFW Wolves webpage (www.odfw.com/wolves) within the next few business days.

In other business over the two-day meeting June 6-7, the Commission also:

  • Allocated big game auction and raffle tags for 2020.
  • Heard a briefing on the crab fishery and reducing the risk of whale entanglements.
  • Adopted harvest limits for Pacific sardine in state waters for July 2019-June 2020 based on federal regulations.
  • Approved funding for Access and Habitat projects that provide hunting access or improve wildlife habitat on private land.
  • Heard a briefing on proposed changes to 2020 big game hunting regulations as part of efforts to improve and simplify the Big Game Hunting Regulations

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is the policy-making body for fish and wildlife issues in Oregon. Its next meeting is Aug. 2 in Salem.

WDFW Reports 2 Stevens Co. Wolves Killed, 1 in Self-defense

A Stevens County man shot and killed a wolf in self-defense after it turned towards he and his daughter last weekend while they were on a hike, but the death of a collared wolf elsewhere in the county is under investigation.

WDFW Capt. Dan Rahn says the latter animal, a female, was killed off Highway 20 near the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE RANGE OF THE STRANGER PACK IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (WDFW)

“It was transmitting a mortality signal — that’s how we found it,” he said. “We recovered it on May 27.”

He said that any tips can be phoned in to his agency’s regional office in Spokane at (509) 892-1001.

Conservation Northwest is offering a $7,500 reward for info leading to a conviction.

As for the other incident, state wolf specialist Ben Maletzke said the man and girl left their home late Sunday afternoon to go on a hike on an ATV trail onto public land when they encountered the wolf.

“About 30 yards up the trail a wolf came out of the brush,” he says.

The man, who was carrying a shotgun, “felt threatened and shot the wolf at 25 yards,” Maletzke said.

“It’s just one of those things. They just kinda crossed paths at a bad time,” he said.

Maletzke said the duo left the uncollared female wolf and returned to their home and reported the incident to WDFW.

In 20 minutes an officer arrived and began investigating, determining it had been in self-defense.

“The wolf was running at them and they were concerned for their safety,” said Capt. Rahn. “You have the right to protect yourself.”

Both he and Maletzke agreed that calling in the incident immediately was the right thing for the man to have done.

It’s the latest where state residents have been found to have been justified in shooting a wolf.

Other cases include a Blue Mountains cabin owner afraid for his dogs; a northern Ferry County livestock producer who caught a wolf in the act of attacking his cattle; an Adams County ranchhand who observed a wolf chasing cows; and a northeast Okanogan County rancher who saw a wolf approaching his day-old calves.

This most recent incident occurred in the south end of Stevens County, in the range of the Stranger Pack and most likely was a member of that group of wolves, Maltezke said, though it might also have been a wandering Huckleberry wolf.

Wolves in Northeast Washington were delisted in 2011 and this corner of the state is where most packs and individuals live. They remain state listed.

Maletzke also shared some nonlethal ways to deal with wildlife encountered afield.

“Stand tall, make yourself look big to make it go away,” he said.

Raising your voice can also help, Maletzke added.

Last summer, after wandering too close to a wolf pup rendezvous site and drawing the attention of protective parents, a Forest Service worker climbed a tree, twice.

And before he retired, Rich Landers, longtime outdoor columnist at the Spokesman-Review, posted a great video with advice for recreating with dogs where wolves might be encountered.

Okanogan Highlands Rancher ‘Justified’ In Shooting Wolf Approaching Calves

A northeast Okanogan County rancher has been reported cleared by Washington game wardens after shooting a wolf that approached within roughly half a football field of a fenced calving area with several newborns.

The incident was first reported in WDFW’s monthly wolf report earlier in May and was fleshed out more fully today by the Capital Press after it requested officers’ reports.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE APPROXIMATE LOCATION OF THE BEAVER CREEK PACK. (WDFW)

It occurred the morning of April 29 east of Highway 97 in the Beaver Creek Pack territory, part of the state where wolves have been federally delisted, and involved a young unmarked male.

“The calving area included cow-calf pairs that were enclosed in a fenced pasture within sight of the house of the livestock producer,” WDFW initially reported.

The Press reported that day-old calves were near a fence as the animal approached. Unsure if it was a coyote or wolf, the rancher shouted at it, but it continued to come closer.

He grabbed a rifle and fired one shot at it, killing it at 280 yards and just 56 yards from the fenceline, the Press reported.

Under state caught-in-the-act provisions, ranchers, farmers and others with animals in the delisted eastern third of the state can shoot a single wolf without a state permit “if the wolf is attacking their domestic animals.”

That allowance was also used this past February in Adams County, where a ranchhand shot and killed a wolf in an unnamed pack after it continued to chase a herd of cattle.

It also requires whomever shoots a wolf to contact WDFW within 24 hours and allow wardens onto the property to investigate.

According to the Press, the rancher was “tense” but officers “assured (him) that we were present to document what had occurred, and we were there to advocate for his personal and property rights as much as the rights of wildlife.”

The story says that the family had known that there had been wolves around the ranch since last fall.

“The producer routinely buries all carcasses and removes afterbirth from the area,” WDFW reported.

Had the wolf gone after the calves, it would have been difficult to make a clean shot, an investigator wrote in their report, the Press stated.

“I informed (the rancher and his wife) that it was a justified act and did not want them to stress about a delayed finding or decision,” another wrote, according to the news source.

Elsewhere in WDFW’s monthly report, state managers say a Spokane Tribe hunter took a member of the Stranger Pack in April, but little other wolf activity amongst the 27 known packs.

WDFW Shortfall Grows; Leaders Take Questions During Livestream

Washington fish and wildlife managers are now projecting they will have a $20 million budget shortfall over the coming two years — and it could more than double in the following two.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind broke the news earlier this week during a 2.5-hour-long livestreamed virtual open house.

WDFW HONCHOS LINE A TABLE DURING MONDAY NIGHT’S LIVE-STREAMED DIGITAL OPEN HOUSE. (WDFW)

“We ended up with less than we needed to get through the biennium, which means we’re not going to be able to provide the services we had hoped to,” he said about the recently concluded legislative session.

Lawmakers did give WDFW a one-time $24 million General Fund bump to fill a preexisting $31 million hole instead of raising fishing and hunting license fees and extending the Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement.

But Susewind said that the shortfall also grew from that new initial $7 million difference to $20 million after legislators also “passed a lot of provisions that further increased our costs. Those increased costs came without additional revenue.”

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

This afternoon his budget and policy director Nate Pamplin said the $13 million ballooning was due to increased salaries for staffers and “other central service costs” that weren’t matched with new revenues; lower than expected disbursements from both the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts; and one-time hits from things like the Skagit catch-and-release wild steelhead fishery and Fish Washington app that would have been funded through the fee bill but now must be another way or get cut.

“We’re still reviewing what has been identified as at risk and trying to balance the budget,” Pamplin said.

Back on Monday’s live stream, Susewind acknowledged that legislators had “front loaded” the agency’s General Fund contribution towards the first year of the two-year budget “to come as close as we can to staying whole” in anticipation of working on it again when state senators and representatives return to Olympia next January .

But he also projected that the shortfall could grow to $46 million during the 2021-23 biennium if nothing’s done.

SUSEWIND HAS BEEN MAKING MORE USE of new ways to talk to WDFW’s constituents than past directors, and in this latest virtual town meeting he brought in a bevy of department heads and managers to talk about their programs and expertises.

But it also included about an hour’s worth of questions sent in by the public as they watched, and as you can imagine many inquiries dealt with the hot-button topics of the day — wolves, North of Falcon, Columbia fisheries.

One of the first questions was from a gentleman by the name of Bill who felt that over the past three years there’s been a lot of lost fishing opportunity and he wanted to know how WDFW was supporting sport anglers.

“We’re trying to maximize the opportunities within the constraints we have,” Susewind stated.

Those restrictions include all the Endangered Species Act listings on fish stocks that often swim alongside healthier ones, fisheries that require extensive and not-cheap monitoring for the state to receive federal permits to hold them.

DRIFT BOAT ANGLERS MAKE THEIR WAY DOWN THE SAUK RIVER DURING APRIL 2018’S 12-DAY FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Susewind said the agency was looking at ways to increase hatchery production, and he pointed to spill down the Columbia system to aid outmigrating smolts as well as habitat work to increase wild returns which would mean higher allowable impact rates on listed stocks

“This is an area I want to be direct with folks,” Susewind said. “I know there’s a ton of frustration around lack of opportunity at the same time we asked for an increase. I’d just ask folks to think through the situation. In these times of incredible constraints, declining runs, it costs more to actually provide the opportunity. The declining opportunity, the effort it takes to provide what opportunity is available is more.

“You all can make your own choice whether it’s a good investment if fees are worth it or not, but those fees are what are going to allow us to continue to manage, to allow us to hopefully turn around this run return and allow us to provide more opportunities,” he said, adding, “That’s what we’re trying to do. Time will tell if we’re successful.”

Asked whether WDFW was considering any early retirements to reduce the budget hole, Susewind said he couldn’t do that without a change in state law, but that staff cuts and not filling vacancies were being looked at.

A woman named Carol asked about a “conservation license,” and Susewind expressed some interest in it as a funding source though also for more durable, across the board funding. Pamplin added that the Reclaiming America’s Wildlife Act now in Congress was a “potential game changer … for us to invest in areas that need support.”

WDFW’s twin mandate tears it between providing harvest opportunities which raise money to pour back into providing more while also having to protect imperiled species that suck money the other way.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UW)

THIS AND RECENT YEARS HAVE SEEN A LOT OF ANGER about the results from North of Falcon salmon-season-setting negotiations and the pruning of opportunities in inland saltwaters, and during the livestream, a question from Chad asked why there couldn’t be open meetings between WDFW and all Western Washington tribes.

Susewind, who just emerged from his first iteration of the annual set-to, called the idea unwieldy and said that the agency had a responsibility to represent its stakeholders during the talks but that that didn’t allow for them to behind those closed doors.

Salmon policy lead Kyle Adicks was more blunt.

“The tribes are sovereign governments. They don’t have to meet with us if they don’t want to. They don’t have to meet with members of our public if they don’t want to,” he said. “Ultimately it’s the tribes’ decision: If they want to have a government-to-government meeting, then that’s what we have.”

RON GARNER, PUGET SOUND ANGLERS PRESIDENT, SPEAKS AT AN ANGLERS RALLY IN LACEY, WASH., IN MAY 2016 AS STATE-TRIBAL NORTH OF FALCON NEGOTIATIONS WERE AT AN IMPASSE AFFECTING THE STATE OF THAT YEAR’S SEASONS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW piggybacks on the tribes’ federal nexus to get sport salmon seasons approved faster than they otherwise might be.

While Adicks also pointed back to a January 2017 Fish and Wildlife Commission briefing on the Open Public Meetings and Administrative Procedures Acts, in recent days a long-threatened legal challenge has been filed that contends that how WDFW sets salmon seasons with the tribes violates those two state laws.

Filed by Twin Harbors Fish and Wildlife Advocacy of McCleary, the petition asks a Thurston County Superior Court judge to throw out the state’s adopted 2019-20 salmon seasons.

WDFW had no comment when I asked about the matter earlier this week — “As you probably know, we don’t comment on ongoing litigation” — but did pass along their efforts to increase transparency:

WDFW values and works hard to provide transparency in the development of fishing seasons. The development of fishing seasons also includes work with tribal co-managers, and those meetings involve highly sensitive government-to-government negotiations with 20 individual treaty tribes during the North of Falcon process.

In 2019, the department held more than a dozen public meetings to discuss potential salmon seasons in various locations around the state. Three of the meetings were live-streamed on WDFW’s website and made available for the public to watch later. WDFW also provided the public with the option to submit comments electronically through the department’s website. During the closing portion of North of Falcon negotiations, which took place during the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in California, the department had daily conference calls with advisors and constituents to discuss the latest developments.

ANOTHER QUESTION FOCUSED ON WHY the Fish and Wildlife Commission had allowed gillnets back into the Columbia this year, gear that had been schedule to be phased out by 2017 under fishery reforms.

Susewind called that policy an adaptive one that aimed to keep commercial fisheries viable on the big river too but that replacement gear hasn’t been figured out, so the citizen panel decided to extend gillnetting “while we figure out how to implement the rest of the policy.”

With spring Chinook now coming in far below forecast and summer Chinook not even opening, gillnetting this year will be limited to a handful of days targeting fall Chinook near Vancouver at the end of summer.

A GUIDE BOAT RUNS UP THE LOWER COLUMBIA DURING 2014’S BUOY 10 FALL SALMON FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Dozens more questions were asked and they covered the gamut:

* What WDFW was doing to increase branch-antler bull elk opportunities;

* How much  it costs to investigate wolf depredations;

* Whether WDFW plans to dispute the status of perennially fishery constraining mid-Hood Canal Chinook as a distinct stock (they’re essentially locally adapted Green/Duwamish strays released into the Skokomish);

* Reducing commercial bycatch;

* If WDFW was considering opening a spring bear general season;

  • What the agency was doing to increase access to salmon and steelhead, boosting mule deer and elk populations, and upping steelhead production;

* If WDFW can fine people who create repeat predator issues;

  • If Westside- and Eastside-only deer tags were possible;

* Instead of bag limits, if tags for salmon were possible;

* The latest on Southwest Washington hoof rot.

* And why weren’t WDFW staffers required to be hunters and anglers.

To see WDFW’s responses, skip to about the 1:23:00-mark of the digital open house.

A SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON MULE DEER BUCK PUTS DISTANCE BETWEEN ITSELF AND PHOTOGRAPHER-HUNTER CHAD ZOLLER. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

“I hope we have your continued support as we try to turn this around and provide more opportunity in this state for hunting and fishing,” Susewind said in wrapping it up.

As he stated earlier, time will tell if WDFW is successful.

ODFW Posts Revised Draft Wolf Plan For Comment Ahead Of June Commission Vote

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

ODFW released its draft proposed Wolf Conservation and Management Plan today at www.odfw.com/wolves

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is expected to vote on the Plan at its June 7 meeting in Salem.

Once adopted, the Plan will be the third edition of the Wolf Plan, which was first adopted in 2005 after an extensive public process and revised in 2010.

A WALLA WALLA PACK WOLF WALKS THROUGH SNOWY COUNTRY IN FEBRUARY 2019. (ODFW)

The proposed Draft Plan was written by staff but involved extensive meetings with stakeholders and public comment at several prior Commission meetings. In 2018, the Commission also directed ODFW staff to host facilitated meetings with stakeholders to seek consensus on unresolved issues.

The draft Plan incorporates ideas where consensus was reached, but agreement was not possible on all topics. See a report on the facilitated meetings’ outcomes here https://www.dfw.state.or.us/Wolves/WPSR.asp

“Wolf management is a polarizing topic with strong views on all sides, so it’s tough to find consensus,” says Derek Broman, ODFW carnivore and furbearer program coordinator. “But regardless of people’s views on wolves, the wolf population in Oregon is growing in size, number of packs and packs reproducing, while expanding its range.”

Defining chronic depredation that might lead to lethal control of wolves and hunting of wolves are some of the most contentious issues. Staff previously proposed the definition of chronic depredation be three confirmed depredations in a 12-month period in Phase 2 and 3, a change from the current definition (two confirmed depredations in an unlimited timeframe). Due to feedback from stakeholders at the facilitated meetings, the Draft Plan now proposes two confirmed depredations in nine months in Phases 2 and 3 (so the only change from the current definition is a  9-month time restriction).

Like the original Plan, the Draft Plan would allow controlled take only in Phase 3 (currently eastern Oregon) in instances of recurring depredations or when wolves are a major cause of ungulate populations not meeting established management objectives or herd management goals.

ODFW is not proposing any controlled take of wolves at this time, but believes regulated hunting and trapping needs to remain a tool available for wolf management.  Any proposal for controlled take of wolves would require Commission approval through a separate planning and hunt development process.

Other major topics addressed in Plan include:

  • Wolf-livestock conflict, including an expanded section on the latest non-lethal tools and techniques for reducing conflict.
  • Wolf interactions with native ungulate populations, including annual ungulate population estimates before and after wolf establishment. Elk, wolves’ primary prey, have increased in some units with wolves and decreased in others. However, interpretation of the impact of wolf predation on elk is confounded by management efforts to reduce elk numbers in units where they are over management objective or to minimize conflicts with elk on private land. Mule deer have been below desired levels for more than two decades, before wolves’ returned to Oregon, with changing land management strategies, invasive weeds, and recent severe weather among the main reasons for their decline.
  • Wolf population monitoring and potential conservation threats.
  • Strategies to address wolf-human interactions.

Public testimony on the draft Plan will be taken during the June 7 meeting and can also be sent to odfw.commission@state.or.us. Emails sent by May 23 will be included with staff proposal as part of the review materials shared with Commissioners prior to the meeting.

ODFW Also Reports Increased Wolf Population; 2018 Count Finds Minimum Of 137 In Oregon

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

State wildlife biologists counted 137 wolves in Oregon this past winter, a 10 percent increase over last year’s count of 124, according to the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management 2018 Annual Report released today at odfw.com/wolves.

A WOLF IN THE CHESNIMNUS PACK OF NORTHEAST OREGON APPEARS ON A TRAIL CAMERA IMAGE. (ODFW)

This annual count is based on verified wolf evidence (like visual observations, tracks, and remote camera photographs) and is considered the minimum known wolf count, not an estimate of how many wolves are in Oregon. The actual number of wolves in Oregon is likely higher, as not all individuals or groups of wolves present in the state are located during the winter count.

Sixteen packs were documented during the count, up from 12 packs in 2017. (A pack is defined as four or more wolves traveling together in winter.) Eight other groups of 2-3 wolves were also identified. Fifteen of those packs successfully reproduced and had at least two adults and two pups that survived through the end of 2018, making them “breeding pairs,” a 36 percent increase over last year’s number.

“The state’s wolf population continues to grow and expand its range, now into the central Oregon Cascade Mountains too,” said Roblyn Brown, ODFW Wolf Coordinator.

Highlights from the report:

  • Resident wolf numbers and reproduction increased in western Oregon. A second pack (White River Pack) reproduced and was designated a breeding pair for 2018, joining the Rogue Pack. The Indigo group of at least three wolves was also found in the Umpqua National Forest.
  • Three collared wolves dispersed to California and one to Idaho.
  • Approximately 13% of wolves known at the end of the year in Oregon were monitored via radio collar.
  • Biologists documented more than 15,000 wolf location data points by radio collar or other methods including aerial, track and howling surveys. 53% of these locations were on public land, 40% on private and 7% on tribal.
  • The breeding female of Oregon’s oldest known reproducing pack, the Wenaha Pack, disappeared and no reproduction was documented for the pack in 2018. The female wolf was at least 10 years old, which is old for a wolf living in the wild, and she appeared in poor body condition in summer trail camera photos.

Unlawful take of wolves decreases
Two wolves were found killed unlawfully in 2018 (down from four in 2017). A juvenile wolf believed to be from the Grouse Flats Pack (a pack that uses Oregon but is counted as a Washington state pack because it dens there) was shot. The radio-collared breeding female of the Mt Emily Pack was shot on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Oregon State Police and CTUIR law enforcement continue to investigate these incidents and are actively seeking more information. Rewards ranging from $2,500 to $15,000 have been offered for information leading to a conviction in these and previous cases.

ODFW’S LATEST WOLF MAP IS NOT UNLIKE WDFW’S, WITH MOST PACKS CONCENTRATED IN THE STATE’S NORTHEAST CORNER AND A FEW IN THE CASCADES AND ELSEWHERE. (ODFW)

Livestock depredation increases
Confirmed depredation incidents by wolves increased 65 percent from last year, with 28 confirmed incidents (up from 17 last year). A total of 17 calves, one llama and two livestock guardian dogs were lost to wolves and an additional 13 calves were injured. Three wolf packs were responsible for the majority of depredations (Rogue – 11, Pine Creek – 6 and Chesnimnus – 5).  While known wolf numbers have increased considerably over the last nine years, depredations and livestock losses have not increased at the same rate.

In all phases of wolf management, Oregon’s Wolf Plan mandates that non-lethal efforts are undertaken before lethal removal is considered. In 2018, those measures included removing attractants, hazing, electrified fladry, fence maintenance, radio-activated guard boxes, increased human presence, range riders and other husbandry practices.

ODFW, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA Wildlife Services continue to support livestock producers in their non-lethal efforts with technical advice, supplies and assistance with implementation.

“As the wolf population has expanded into new areas in Oregon, livestock producers have adjusted the way they do business to remove bone piles and incorporate non-lethal measures that can reduce the vulnerability of their livestock to depredation by wolves and other predators,” said Roblyn Brown, ODFW Wolf Coordinator. “We extend our thanks and appreciation for their efforts.”

The Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance Grant Program also awarded $160,890 in grant funds to compensate livestock producers for losses and to fund preventive non-lethal measures.

ODFW staff will present an overview of the draft Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management 2018 Annual Report to the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their April 19 meeting in St Helens. The presentation will be during the Director’s Report, and no public testimony is taken during this portion of the meeting.

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Washington Wolf Numbers Up Again In 2018 Annual Count

Washington wildlife managers say that wolf numbers increased yet again, marking a tenth straight year of growth, with new packs popping up in Skagit, Kittitas and Columbia Counties and on and near the Colville Reservation.

THE MALE WOLF OF THE DIOBSUD PACK MOVES THROUGH A FORESTED SECTION OF THE NORTH CASCADES. (WDFW)

They report that there were a minimum of 126 wolves in 27 packs with 17 successful breeding pairs at the end of 2018, up from 122, 22 and 14.

The rise occurred once again despite tribal hunting and state removals to head off livestock depredations.

State wolf policy manager Donny Martorello did call the 2 percent growth “modest,” but said that the increase in breeding pairs in the North Cascades to three was important.

“We’re pleased we’re taking another step towards the recovery objective. The local recovery objective is four,” he said.

It was expected in some quarters including this one that the 2018 annual count would be significantly higher based on the work of Dr. Samuel Wasser in Northeast Washington and the South Cascades.

His scat-sniffing dogs found evidence of 60 different wolves in Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties during a timeframe that WDFW’s official count listed a minimum of 30.

But Martorello said that Wasser and WDFW were largely working at opposite ends of the wolf population cycle, the University of Washington researcher after litters were on the ground and wolf numbers were highest, and the state agency in the dead of winter, which can see 50 to 60 percent mortality among young-of-the-year animals.

“We’re doing a minimum count when the population is lowest,” he said.

Minimum also means the animals that they can visually count out of aircraft or on trail cams, though they use a 12 percent expansion factor to account for dispersers.

Speaking of, one of the six new packs was formed in the upper Skagit Valley when the male that’s been hanging out near Marblemount since 2018 was joined by a female this winter. The duo are being called the Diobsud Pack, after a local stream.

It’s being termed the first pack west of the Cascade Crest, though several wolves ran in the border-straddling Hozomeen area of the upper upper Skagit a few years ago, though apparently didn’t den in Washington, the official metric for determining residency.

The new Butte Creek Pack runs in the Blue Mountains and includes one that dispersed from elsewhere in the state, and the Naneum Pack is in northeast Kittitas County.

And the Nason, OPT for Old Profanity Territory, and Sherman Packs are on or north of the Colville Reservation.

WDFW’S 2018 WOLF PACK MAP SHOWS WHERE THE 27 GROUPS OF WOLVES OCCUR. (WDFW)

That upper right quarter of Washington is already positively thick with wolves, though the Five Sisters Pack broke up “due to unknown reasons.”

That didn’t much worry Martorello, who said that with recovery goals long ago surpassed, the year to year fluctuations were a sign of “normal ecological changes.”

Indeed, the report underscores yet again that wolves are doing quite well in Washington and are likely to continue to do so, and it will be taken into account as WDFW reviews the status of the species and its robustness.

That process will begin in May and will use Washington wolf data instead of other states’ to update population models. It will also incorporate mortality and fecundity data.

Based on that review, WDFW will make a recommendation to the Fish and Wildlife Commission next February on whether gray wolves’ continued state ESA listing is warranted or not.

Well down the road, that could potentially lead to hunting opportunities similar to those already enjoyed by members of the Colville and Spokane Tribes.

Earlier this year, federal wildlife overseers announced they would propose delisting packs in the western two-thirds of the Washington as well as Oregon and elsewhere in the Lower 48.

More details on the annual count will come out tomorrow as WDFW managers present it to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, but other details from the agency’s press release today include:

  • Along with the disperser that’s part of the Butte Creek Pack, another Washington wolf left the state and headed through Oregon and into Idaho (this winter, a Montana wolf was also spotted on the Palouse);
  • At least 12 wolves died in 2018, six taken during tribal hunting seasons, four (two OPTs, one Togo, one Smackout) killed by WDFW after repeated livestock depredations in the federally delisted third of the state; and two that are being investigated;
  • Since wolves were first confirmed as returning to Washington in 2008, their numbers have increased 28 percent a year, and that is likely to continue as the population in the Cascades growsk, managers say;
  • WDFW and 31 ranches had cost-sharing agreements to protect livestock herds;
  • Five packs depredated on at least one farm animal in 2018, with 11 confirmed cattle and one sheep deaths and 19 cattle and two sheep injured by wolves;
  • And WDFW reports it processed damage claims totaling $7,536 for wolf-caused losses and $5,950 for an “indirect” claim for reduced weight gain or other wolf-related interactions.

Researchers have been looking into the impact of wolves on important hunting species, with University of Washington scientists earlier this year reporting that muleys are moving higher up in the mountains of North-central Washington to avoid the predators (though also closer to cougars).

WDFW is also in year three of its five-year Predator-Prey Project in the Okanogan and Northeast Washington.

Kretz Washington Wolf Status Review Bill Passes House, Now In Senate

Even as WDFW begins a status checkup of gray wolves in Washington, state lawmakers are giving hard deadlines for the agency to complete it and for the Fish and Wildlife Commission to decide whether to update the species’ listing.

REP. JOEL KRETZ SPEAKS DURING DEBATE ON THE FLOOR OF WASHINGTON’S HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES EARLIER THIS WEEK. (STATE LEGISLATURE)

“We need the department to take this step to officially document how the wolves are faring,” said prime sponsor Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) in a press release yesterday. “I know how my ranchers and communities are faring, and it’s not good. Despite honest efforts on both sides of this issue, folks back in my district are desperate. The state needs to show that it’s listening, it hears them, and is going to start taking their concerns to heart.”

HB 2097, which passed out of the House on Monday, requires the review to be based on statewide wolf numbers and scientific data to determine if the “population is no longer in danger of failing, declining, or no longer vulnerable to limited numbers, disease, predation, habitat loss or change, or exploitation.”

The bill must still pass the Senate, where this morning it was introduced and referred to the natural resources committee, and be signed by Governor Inslee, but under it WDFW’s work would have to be finalized by the end of next February and its citizen oversight panel need to reconsider the state endangered status of wolves by August 31, 2020.

A status review is one of two ways under the Washington Administrative Codes’ “delisting criteria” that a species can be taken off state ESA lists.

WAC 220-610-110

Endangered, threatened, and sensitive wildlife species classification.

Delisting criteria
4.1
The commission shall delist a wildlife species from endangered, threatened, or sensitive solely on the basis of the biological status of the species being considered, based on the preponderance of scientific data available.
4.2
A species may be delisted from endangered, threatened, or sensitive only when populations are no longer in danger of failing, declining, are no longer vulnerable, pursuant to section 3.3, or meet recovery plan goals, and when it no longer meets the definitions in sections 2.4, 2.5, or 2.6.

The other is by meeting benchmarks set by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. With wolves, that 2011’s management plan, approved before recovery really got going. Under it, there needs to be either 15 or 18 successful breeding pairs in various parts of the state for certain periods of time.

WDFW has been estimating that that would occur somewhere around 2021, give or take.

Where the latter criteria is essentially a “measuring stick” for how close wolves are to reaching the wolf plan’s predetermined numerical figures, the former considers the “robustness” of the actual population. The most recent annual count did find nearly 15 breeding pairs, though almost all were in one single recovery region.

Indeed, there can be no doubt that pack goals have been reached in Kretz’s district — Pend Oreille, Stevens and Ferry Counties and northeast Okanogan County — but his initial bill’s possible regional delisting wording was stripped out as it moved through the legislature’s lower chamber after its Feb. 19 introduction.

Still, the unanimous 98-0 vote was a good sign for ranchers, hunters and others concerned about growing wolf numbers.

The bill also includes provisions for WDFW to study how wolf recovery in the state’s federally delisted eastern third is affecting recolonization elsewhere.

While a fringe out-of-state pro-wolf blog is already claiming the goal posts are being moved, page 68 of the wolf plan also states that if 2011’s population models turn out to be wrong, “Incorporating wolf demographic data specific to Washington will allow WDFW to update predictions of population persistence during wolf recovery phases and to revise the recovery objectives, if needed.”

And the bill would continue efforts in Ferry and Stevens Counties to deal with wolf-livestock conflicts, and create a grant program for using nonlethal deterrents in all of Eastern Washington.

“In many ways, the state has drug its feet in addressing my constituents’ concerns regarding the wolf issue,” said Kretz in the press release. “The state needs to step up financially and assist with the problems it has created, or at the very least, neglected.”

Paula Swedeen of Conservation Northwest said she appreciated lawmakers commitments to recovering wolves and providing enough funding for wolf-livestock conflict avoidance work, what she called “a significant positive step for both wolves and ranchers.”

“This allows for more social tolerance to be fostered across the state, including in the rural areas where wolves are already abundant. There is robust discussion about increasing the effort to promote coexistence in areas where livelihoods are affected by wolf recovery,” she said in a statement.

It all comes as US Interior Department Acting Secretary David Bernhardt last week said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would soon propose removing gray wolves from ESA protections in the western two-thirds of Washington and elsewhere in the Lower 48.

WDFW has long maintained it is ready take over managing wolves across the state.

Kretz has introduced numerous wolf bills in the state legislature, some more serious than others. It appears this latest one has a good head of steam and could pass.

Washington Game Commissioners Hear About Northeast Predator, Prey Issues

With the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s monthly meeting being held in Spokane, members had a chance to hear about the region’s predator and prey issues from local residents this morning.

A 197-POUND NORTHEAST WASHINGTON COUGAR SNARLS AFTER BEING TREED FOR A PREDATOR-PREY RESEARCH STUDY. (WDFW)

And from too many cougars to not enough deer to wolf management, hunters, homeowners and ranchers gave WDFW’s citizen oversight panel an earful, and then some, during public input.

In testimony that was being live-streamed, some talked about how few deer they were seeing anymore where once they would routinely see hundreds.

One hunter who had been afield for 40 years and whose family has a longtime deer camp near Sherman Pass spoke of seeing only one mature mule deer buck and a handful of does last season.

He tearfully called for a six-year deer hunting moratorium across Eastern Washington so future generations would have opportunities to see the animals.

A Colville-area man proposed a pilot Sept. 1-March 31 lion season in WDFW’s District 1, the popular game management units of Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties.

His idea called for a minimum harvest of 45, but if the take fell below that the hunt would be restricted as a sign of a declining population.

RESIDENTS EXPRESS CONCERNS ABOUT NORTHEAST WASHINGTON PREDATOR AND PREY POPULATIONS BEFORE THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (WDFW)

Another talked about fearing letting his kids play in the backyard, relating a story about a cougar having been as close as 3 feet from someone.

Some called for reinstating hound hunting, and another spotlighted one tribe’s predator and prey management, essentially saying that big game is their primary priority.


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A man with a CDL volunteered to help translocate wolves out of the region.

And a livestock producer told commissioners how ranchers were poo-pooed that one wolf pack had twice as many members as state managers thought, but were vindicated when a recent aerial survey showed just that.

He also indicated he was more comfortable speaking in Spokane than Olympia, where he said he felt like he might be shot in the back by audience members.

Speaking of Olympia, several predator and prey bills that could affect Northeast Washington have been active there.

SB 2097, directing WDFW to review the status of wolves in Washington, has been amended after pushback to kill the possibility of considering regional delisting;

SB 5525 deals with whitetail deer surveys and gives the agency a goal of increasing counts to eight to nine per mile;

And HB 1516 and SB 5320 would create a program for training dogs for nonlethal pursuit of predators by vetted houndsmen to protect stock and public safety.

Meanwhile, for this hunting season, WDFW is proposing to eliminate antlerless whitetail tags and permits for youth, senior, disabled, second deer, early and late archery and early muzzleloader seasons in GMUs 101 through 121 to try and increase the herd.

Back in Spokane, the commission’s public input period was scheduled to run from 8:15 to 8:45 a.m., but didn’t wrap up until 10:48 a.m. such was the number of people who wanted to speak.

“We heard you and we’ll start discussing this internally and see what we can do,” said Chairman Larry Carpenter in closing testimony.

At the end of today’s session, Carpenter touched on predators again, as did another commissioner.

“We’re not headed on the right compass course,” said Jay Holzmiller of Anatone, who said it was a bad idea “to keep walking down the road fat, dumb and happy.”

“We’re sitting on a powder keg,” he said.

North-central Washington Mule Deer ‘Really Changing Their Home Ranges’ In Response To Wolves: UW Study

A University of Washington press release is fleshing out something I reported before last deer season:

Muleys and whitetails are beginning to change their behavior as wolf numbers increase in North-central Washington, and hunters might want to start looking in rougher country for the big-eared bounders.

A MULE DEER DOE AND FAWN CAPTURED ON A TRAIL CAM DURING A UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON WOLF-DEER STUDY. (UW)

“Overall, the researchers found that mule deer in gray wolf areas changed their behavior to avoid wolves altogether — mainly by moving to higher, steeper elevations, away from roads and toward brushy, rocky terrain,” states the news release that came out yesterday.

“Alternately, white-tailed deer that favor sprinting and early detection as ways to escape from predators were more likely to stick to their normal behavior in wolf areas, sprinting across open, gently rolling terrain with good visibility — including along roads,” it continues.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UW)

That conclusion from the press release is based on field research involving collared deer and wolves and trail cams from 2013 through 2016 in areas of Okanogan and Ferry Counties occupied and unoccupied by packs.

“Mule deer faced with the threat of wolves are really changing their home ranges, on a large scale,” said UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences associate professor Aaron Wirsing.

He is one of six UW, Oregon State University and other coauthors of an article recently published in the journal Oecologia recently.

He said that the species is moving uphill into less smooth territory “where wolves are less likely to hunt successfully.”

While the UW press release does note that that shift “could affect hunting opportunities” — “Indeed, some hunters in eastern Washington have already reported seeing mule deer higher on ridges where they are less accessible than in past years” — what it doesn’t mention is that that move just puts muleys closer to the jaws of another predator better adopted to stalking rough country.

Mountain lions.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM A VIDEO CAMERA SLUNG AROUND THE NECK OF A WHITETAIL DOE FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON’S DEER-WOLF STUDY SHOWS A MOUNTAIN LION ATTACK. THE CAMERA WAS LATER RECOVERED AND ITS VIDEO POSTED TO NRA PUBS’ YOUTUBE CHANNEL.

One of the coauthors, Justin Dellinger, pointed that out when I spoke to him in the lead-up to 2018’s rifle buck hunt.

While the number of deer killed by wolves in the study was considerably fewer than how many cougars took –2 vs. 12 — he was quick to note that the data set is short, and it’s specific to North-central Washington and the early stages of wolf colonization.

Dellinger stated that the study occurred during relatively easy winters and theorized that in a severe one, mule deer driven down into open lowland winter range by snow could be preyed upon more heavily by wolves.

But there can be no doubt that even as deer adapt to the return of the long-legged lopers, they are still ending up on the menu.

Not far to the east of the study area, in similar though more densely forested country with fewer muleys and more whitetails, another UW researcher and his scat-sniffing dogs found that deer are the primary food source for wolves.

LAST YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING HINDQUARTERS OF A WHITETAIL FAWN BACK TO THE DEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (JEFF FLOOD)

Earlier this winter, Dr. Samuel Wasser told Washington lawmakers, who funded his work, that they collected 8,456 piles of poo in northern Stevens and Pend Oreille County between April 2015 and June 2017, ran 6,095 through a lab and found that 826 had been left by 114 individual wolves.

As for what those packs were digesting, deer represented the largest portion of their diet, though moose weren’t far behind.

A PRESENTATION BY A UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON PROFESSOR BEFORE THE STATE LEGISLATURE SHOWS WHAT LAB ANALYSIS FOUND TO BE KEY PARTS OF THE DIET OF WOLVES IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (DR. SAMUEL WASSER)

Deer also made up the plurality of cougar and coyote diets.

According to the UW press release, wolves will chase deer  “sometimes upwards of 6 miles.”

It postulates that whitetail hunting “likely won’t change to the same degree with the presence of wolves.”

It also says that the return of wolves to deer country “could affect other parts of the ecosystem,” likely meaning vegetation cover, “and perhaps reduce the number of deer-vehicle collisions.”

A heat map detailing where roadkill salvagers have picked up the most deer on state routes since July 2016 does show a number on Highways 20 and 21 in the area near where the wolf-deer study took place, but much higher concentrations in more populated areas where wolves are somewhat less likely to occur.

A MAP PREPARED FOR THE WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION EARLIER THIS WINTER SHOWS ROADKILL SALVAGE HOT SPOTS FOR BLACKTAIL, WHITETAIL AND MULE DEER ACROSS THE STATE. (WDFW)

The UW wolf-deer study was funded by the university, National Science Foundation, WDFW, Safari Club International Foundation and Conservation Northwest.

The Colville Tribes recently changed its wolf season for tribal members in areas that were part of the study — the reservation and the “North Half” — to year-round without a quota.

WDFW and UW researchers are also in year three of a five-year predator-prey study across the northern tier of Eastern Washington that should also bring new information about how wolves, deer, moose, elk, cougars, coyotes and other critters in the area’s wildlife guild are adapting to the changing dynamics.