Tag Archives: wolves

U.S. House Votes To Delist Lower 48 Gray Wolves

The US House of Representatives earlier today voted to delist gray wolves in the rest of the Lower 48 by a 196 to 180 margin.

EARLIER THIS YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING QUARTERS OF ONE BACK TO THE DEN. (JEFF FLOOD)

HR 6784, known as the Manage our Wolves Act and co-sponsored by two Eastern Washington Republicans, now heads to the US Senate.

“The recovery of the gray wolf is a success story for the Endangered Species Act, and the best available science must determine whether species remain listed,” said Congressman Dan Newhouse of the Yakima Valley in a press release. “States are best-equipped to effectively manage gray wolves and respond to the needs of ecosystem and local communities. I am pleased that this bipartisan legislation to return management of the gray wolf species to the states, as requested by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and as proposed by the Obama administration, has been approved by the House.”

Cosponsor and Spokane-area Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers touched on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal in her remarks on the floor of the House this morning.

“In the fall of 2013, the Obama Administration announced that the gray wolf is recovered. President Obama’s Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe stated, ‘[the gray wolf] is no longer endangered or threatened with extinction…as we propose to remove ESA protections, states like Washington and Oregon are managing expanding populations under protective state laws.’ Unfortunately, the gray wolf was not delisted,” she said in a press release.

Up until this past spring, little apparent work was being done by USFWS on the delisting, but the process begin again with a push to get a determination out by the end of 2018.

Today’s vote probably also recognizes the coming changing politics in Congress’s lower chamber as Democrats take over in January and the odds of a bill like this passing decrease, though a sea lion management bill did get bipartisan support in clearing the House.

Conservation Northwest called the wolf bill “too broad and “unprecedented,” but in 2011 Congress also voted to delist wolves in Idaho, Montana, and the eastern two-thirds of Washington and Oregon through a budget rider.

If this bill were to pass Congress and be signed into law, it would provide WDFW with more flexibility for managing wolves in Central and Western Washington, but the species would remain listed under the state’s version of the Endangered Species Act.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post misreported progress of a sea lion bill through the House.

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.

Cluster Of Wolf Reports In Central Snohomish County

Does a recent cluster of reports mean there are wolves in central Snohomish County?

A photo posted on a Granite Falls discussion board and hunters and others’ reports suggest that is the case, and it’s not as if wolves haven’t poked out of the Cascades into Western Washington before.

RECENT WOLF REPORTS CENTER AROUND THE MT. PILCHUCK FOOTHILLS TOWN OF GRANITE FALLS, IN CENTRAL SNOHOMISH COUNTY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

DNA confirmed that one captured near Marblemount last year was a wolf, while another hit on I-90 east of North Bend in 2015 had apparently come as far west as Snoqualmie where it was spotted on a backyard trail cam.

About halfway between those two known wolves — likely dispersers from packs in Eastern Washington and beyond — is where the latest reports come from and it involves multiple individuals.

A resident’s photo shows the back end of one canid and front end of another trailing behind as they skirt the edge of a yard near Granite Falls.

The tail of the front animal and head of the other do appear to be wolflike.

A GRANITE FALLS RESIDENT SNAPPED THIS IMAGE AND ANOTHER OF WHAT MIGHT BE A PAIR OF WOLVES IN THEIR BACKYARD. (COURTESY IMAGE)

A second photo shows them as well.

(COURTESY IMAGE)

And in a KIRO interview, Becca Van Tassell, who said she had been hunting since she was 13 and has had up-close encounters with a coyote, says she now believes she saw one in the same area this past weekend.

“There’s no way that’s a coyote — that’s huge,” she said, recalling her sighting with reporter Joanna Small.

Then there are a series of reports this month posted to WDFW’s wolf observation map.

On Oct. 27 a deer hunter reported that after trying for a follow-up shot on a blacktail up on Mt. Pilchuck, they spotted a “large wolf heading after where the deer had gone. He looked about 100 pounds.”

An Oct. 22 report from the Granite Falls area reads, “Just passed through my back yard. My kids saw them the week before, but I did not,” while another Oct. 27 post says one was lying in resident’s backyard and was really big, and an Oct. 14 report from the Darrington area over the mountains to the northeast suggests multiple animals howling around daybreak.

I sent links to state and federal wolf managers for their thoughts — typically they like to confirm the species through scat, fur or biological samples rather than photos — but in the meanwhile Amy Windrope, the regional WDFW chief in Mill Creek, told KIRO’s Small, “It is possible.”

Washington’s Wolves, a Facebook page operated by Conservation Northwest, linked to the TV station’s report and called it “Exciting news for wolf recovery in Western Washington,” an unusually strong statement for them.

More developments as they arrive.

WDFW Director Appears On Hour-long TVW Program

New WDFW Director Kelly Susewind talked budget, wolves, orcas and Chinook, tribal relations and more on TVW ahead of his upcoming six-stop tour across Washington.

The hour-long interview with Inside Olympia host Austin Jenkins is posted here and comes as Susewind nears the end of his third month in the hot seat.

A SCREEN SHOT FROM TVW SHOWS INSIDE OLYMPIA HOST AUSTIN JENKINS AND WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND AT THE END OF THEIR ONE-HOUR INTERVIEW. (TVW)

As with previous stories here and elsewhere, it fleshes out his thinking on hot-button fish and wildlife issues, and sets the tone for what his priorities are going forward.

It also included news that the Old Profanity Territory Pack has struck again in northern Ferry County and that Susewind is expecting a recommendation from field staff soon on whether to take out its two remaining wolves or continue with the evaluation period.

Asked by Jenkins if he was concerned that a court could take lethal removal off the table, Susewind defended the agency’s protocols that have been challenged by the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, saying he believes WDFW has “a good solid case.”

“We’re ahead of most of the country in wolf management, I think, by trying this … collaborative (approach), by having reasonable minds at the table from both sides talking about, ‘How can we make this work for everybody?” he said.

On helping out starving killer whales by producing more Chinook, Susewind said that while the olden day’s Johnny Appleseed approach to hatchery operations may have damaged wild runs, the pendulum may have swung too far the other way.

“We’ve learned from that, but have we gone too far to the point we’re restricting ourselves? In my opinion, yes,” he said.

While quickly acknowledging his lack of fisheries management experience but that he had staff who were experts, he also noted that “You can’t just turn the orca dial, you’ve got to turn the whole ecosystem dial.”

As for November and December’s open houses with the public, Susewind considers the half-dozen chances to meet with hunters, anglers and other Washington residents an “opening of the door.”

“Tell me what you need, what you’re not getting, and help us get into a position so that we can deliver that to you,” he told Jenkins.

Next year Susewind hopes that lawmakers are more amenable to WDFW’s big budget ask than the previous one that went down in flames.

Three-quarters of the overall $60-plus million proposal would come from the General Fund and the rest from a 15 percent across-the-board license fee increase to address funding shortfalls and boost hunting and fishing opportunities and habitat and other investments.

Those meetings are slated to occur:

Monday, Nov. 5 – CenterPlace Regional Event Center, 2426 N. Discovery Place, Spokane Valley
Tuesday, Nov. 6 – Grant County Public Works, 124 Enterprise St. SE, Ephrata
Wednesday, Nov. 7 – Selah Civic Center, 216 1st St., Selah
Tuesday, Nov. 13 – Montesano City Hall, 112 North Main Street, Montesano
Wednesday, Nov. 14 – WDFW Ridgefield Office, 5525 South 11th Street, Ridgefield
Wednesday, Dec. 12 – Issaquah Salmon Hatchery Watershed Science Center, 125 W Sunset Way, Issaquah

All run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Hunters Urged To Apply For Washington Wolf Advisory Group Seats

The next few years could be crucial ones in Washington’s wolf world, and with the Department of Fish and Wildlife putting out the call for nominations to its Wolf Advisory Group, one sportsman says they hope that “thoughtful, respectful and vocal hunters apply.”

A WASHINGTON WOLF TAKES A LOOK AROUND. (WDFW)

The individual didn’t wish to be named, but says that having sat in on numerous WAG meetings in recent years, as wolves close in on state recovery goals it’s more important than ever for hunters to participate more.

Among the discussions likely to occur is planning for the postdelisting period, how wolves may be managed in terms of impacts on big game species and possibly even through hunting.

It will mark a sharp shift in the WAG’s workload, which so far has primarily focused on dealing with wolf-livestock conflicts, a multiyear effort that was led by an outside facilitator who has since departed.

The tug-of-war between livestock producers and predator advocates led to a consensus that stressed nonlethal preventative measures and established a clearer structure for WDFW to lethally remove problem animals.

That protocol has survived two years of outsiders’ objections and this summer a judge twice shot down efforts to halt kill authorizations, though it will still have its day in court.

But it’s also meant that the conversation about wolves in Washington has been “stuck on yesterday’s cattle conflicts,” according to the observer, “with far too little attention given to tomorrow’s wolf management, the needs and values of hunters as wildlife stakeholders, and the importance of the game species we pursue.”

HUNTERS DISCUSS THE DAY AROUND A CAMPFIRE IN THE OKANOGAN-WENATCHEE NATIONAL FOREST. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

No matter your opinion on wolves — good, bad or indifferent — they’re here to stay, so it behooves hunters to be involved in the process.

“We have to be at the table, and we have to speak up once there.”

WAG has 18 positions for those in the hunting, ranching, rural and environmental communities, and members serve staggered terms. Four current members do represent sportsman interests.

The plan is for WDFW Director Kelly Susewind to plug in new advisors as seats become available, starting with the one open now by next February.

“We are looking for candidates who can work cooperatively with others to develop management recommendations that reflect a diversity of perspectives,” Susewind said in a press release.

The group generally holds four two-day meetings each year at different locations across the state.

In their applications, prospective members are asked to address several items, including their knowledge of the state wolf plan and how they’ve worked collaboratively with those of different viewpoints.

Forms can either be emailed to Donny.martorello@dfw.wa.gov or mailed to WDFW Wolf Policy Lead Donny Martorello, WDFW, PO Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504-3200.

Deadline is 5 p.m., Nov. 30.

Second O.P.T. Wolf Shot, WDFW Now Evaluating If Removals Change Depredating Pack’s Behavior

Washington wolf managers say they shot and killed a second member of the cattle-attacking Old Profanity Territory Pack and will now evaluate whether that changes the behavior of the northern Ferry County wolves.

A PAIR OF WOLVES USE A LOGGING ROAD IN NORTHERN FERRY COUNTY. (CONSERVATION NORTHWEST)

“If WDFW documents another livestock depredation and confirms that it likely occurred after today’s action, the department may initiate another lethal removal action following the guidelines of the Wolf Plan and 2017 Protocol,” the agency said in a late-afternoon statement.

According to that, the wolf that was killed was an adult and is believed to have been the breeding female.

Helicopter-borne state staffers report seeing one other wolf, an adult male, during air operations, and they believe there is one other juvenile in the area.

The OPT wolves are blamed for 12 cattle depredations on federal grazing land in the Colville National Forest this month.

“The livestock producer who owns the affected livestock continues to use contracted range riders to monitor his herd, is removing or securing livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd, is using foxlights at salting locations in high wolf use areas, and is removing sick and injured livestock from the grazing area until they are healed,” WDFW reported.” The majority of the producer’s livestock will be moved off federal grazing allotments to adjacent private grazing lands by mid-October.”

On Sept. 16, following Director Kelly Susewind’s incremental lethal removal authorization for up to two wolves, one juvenile was killed.

The pack is believed to have initially numbered five or six, with three or four adults and two young-of-the-year animals.

O.P.T. Pack Injures 5 More Calves, WDFW Says Removal Ops ‘Ongoing’

Washington wolf managers are confirming that the Old Profanity Territory Pack injured five more calves on a northern Ferry County grazing allotment and that their incremental removal operation is still “ongoing.”

So far a sharpshooter has killed one wolf from the pack, a 50-pound juvenile, on Sept. 16 and under WDFW Director Kelly Susewind’s kill authorization another can be taken out.

He gave the order back on Sept. 12 following attacks that injured five other calves and killed a sixth in the space of a week and a half.

The pack is believed to consist of three or four adults and two juvenile wolves.

The latest calf depredations occurred five days to a week before Sept. 21, according to WDFW.

Local state lawmaker Rep. Joel Kretz reported the attacks on his Facebook page on Sept. 20.

The livestock producer, identified as Les McIrvin of the Diamond M Ranch, is using range riders, removing carcasses, bringing sick and injured cattle off the landscape and moving his herd out of the danger area, but he’s not happy about the last one.

“There is all the feed in the world at the high elevations, but the wolves are driving the cattle into a canyon with no food or water,” McIrvin told the Press.

Earlier in the grazing season he waited until July 10 to turn out his animals in the Kettle Range, the idea being to put larger, less vulnerable calves on the landscape.

After being relatively quiet since its second loss in Thurston County Superior Court, the Center For Biological Diversity again began rallying its supporters to contact WDFW against removals.

How Are Wolves Affecting Washington Deer?

If your deer camp is anything like the one I belong to, the subject of wolves has probably come up since 2008.

That’s the year that Washington’s first known modern-day pack set up shop in the valley I’ve hunted since the 1990s and my dad and hunting partners before that. So I’ve been keenly interested in the wolf-deer studies being conducted there and elsewhere by state and university researchers.

RESEARCHERS LOOKING INTO WOLF-DEER INTERACTIONS IN NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON ARE REPORTING INITIAL DETAILS ABOUT HOW WOLVES ARE AFFECTING ADULT MULE DEER AND WHITETAIL BEHAVIOR AND MORTALITY, BUT DID NOT STUDY FAWNS. EARLIER THIS YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING QUARTERS OF ONE BACK TO THE DEN. (JEFF FLOOD)

When he was a PhD. candidate at the University of Washington, Justin Dellinger placed small collar cameras around the necks of deer to determine their behavior as well as mortality inside and outside of wolf country.

Some initial findings are surprising – and amazing. One camera recorded the final moments of a cougar attack on a whitetail doe.

Dellinger, who has moved on to become California’s statewide large carnivore specialist, is pretty cautious about reading too deeply into them.

“I wouldn’t call anything I’ve done the definitive word,” he says.

But while wolves (and wolf people) drive me crazy, they’re here for the long haul, so being pragmatic I look for insights that deer hunters can use to possibly be more successful where they occur. I’m not going to let Canis lupus have the run of the woods.

DELLINGER’S RESEARCH OCCURRED in eastern Okanogan County and on the Colville Indian Reservation and involved mule deer and whitetails.

Frankly, I assumed that only the former species occupied the same sort of ground as wolves – mountainous national forestlands – but Dellinger’s hypothesis is that the long-legged predators’ territories actually overlap more with valley-loving whitetail.

“Wolves run – that’s how they catch their prey,” he states, and they can do that better in areas of rolling, gentle terrain than the “steep, rocky stuff” that mule deer prefer in this particular country.

But muleys and wolves do also occur on the same landscapes, and there the deer generally try to avoid contact with the wild canids because their defensive strategy – stotting off a short ways when confronted with danger – is easily defeated.

Thick, rough country “where wolves have to run around obstacles” works best for them, Dellinger says.

“They’re shifting to steeper, more rugged terrain,” he says of mule deer, “getting further away from Forest Service roads, which wolves use as travel corridors, and they’re using areas of more increased cover.”

That’s going to make it more difficult for some of us to hunt these deer, and anger and accusations that the herds have been decimated may follow.

A MULE DEER MOVES UP A STEEP OKANOGAN COUNTY SLOPE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

But as more and more wolves and packs occur in the state’s whitetail heartland, that deer species’ reaction is almost the polar opposite.

“They’re selecting for areas with greater visibility, away from cover and out in the open, areas of decreased slopes, closer to roads,” Dellinger says.

Those all help whitetails detect wolves early, allowing them to get a head start and “run like a bat out of hell,” he says.

That tactic didn’t work out for two study does, however, according to a recent Dellinger paper. It builds on previous research by Washington State University that pegged wolves as the “probable” reason why 137 deer died over the course of a two-summer study in much of the same region.

That work was based on collaring wolves and cattle, but Dellinger et al did the opposite, putting telemetry on 120 deer – bucks and does, whitetails and mule deer – in wolf and nonwolf areas.

When the devices gave out mortality signals they followed up and were able to determine the causes of death for 38 deer, with humans accounting for 16, cougars 12, coyotes seven, wolves two and bears one. Three others went down as unknown. Lions preferred does (10) while hunters went for bucks (13).

(DATA COURTESY JUSTIN DELLINGER ET AL)

It’s easy to overread the data as suggesting wolves don’t prey that much on muleys – packs don’t keep settling in the Kettle Range just to eat beef in summer, that’s for sure – but that doesn’t mean they’re not having other impacts on the species.

The big-eared bounders’ shift to more rugged terrain just puts them deeper into cougar country, Dellinger notes.

WHILE THE RESULTS are “really interesting,” Dellinger is quick to add that the data set is short and it’s specific to North-central Washington and the early stages of wolf colonization.

Another important caveat is that the research occurred during relatively easy winters. Dellinger theorizes that in a severe one, mule deer driven down into open lowland winter range by snow could be preyed upon more heavily by wolves.

“Wolf mortality could be additive and really impact deer populations” at that point, he says.

Also of note, no fawns were collared, so the impact wolves may be having on the most vulnerable part of the herd, and subsequent years’ adult buck and doe numbers, is unclear.

A December 2017 report by WDFW assessing Washington ungulate populations found none are being limited by wolves or other members of the state’s predator guild, though moose calf survival in central Stevens County, east of the deer study area, did elicit concern.

Bottom line: Dellinger says that a lot more research needs to be done to get a more complete picture of the interactions of wolves and deer here.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s big five-year Predator-Prey Project in the Okanogan and Northeast Washington should really add to his work. It runs through 2021.