With The Daily Howler’s attention diverted by a loooooong family vacation and the subsequent craziness of his October deadlines, he’s been off the Washington wolf beat for a nice long while.
Ahhhh, so refreshing.
But TDH is now back in biz, and oh is there some news.
1) As I reported earlier this week, WDFW announced that a new pack on the Kettle Crest was to blame for the deaths of a cow and a calf owned by the McIrvins of the Diamond M Ranch near Laurier, and that there were at least six members in the pack. That was based off of seeing three adults and three pups on a trail cam.
Well, the reason the trail cams were put up in the first place was because there was a seventh member of the Profanity Peak Pack, another pup. It was found dead earlier this summer and reported to WDFW Aug. 21.
That told the agency that there was a breeding pair in the area.
(Last year, the blue circle on WDFW’s map denoting the suspected Boulder Creek Pack in this area was based on wolf tracks in the snow seen by a cougar hunter, and possibly just the Wedge wolves on a walkabout.)
It’s unclear why the pup died. One source reports that among locals, it’s “common knowledge” that the animal was shot.
Another source is pretty skeptical about the person who found it — that man, who has signed his organization onto two petitions challenging WDFW’s lethal wolf management protocols over the last year, has yet to respond to our inquiry about the circumstances.
And yet another says the case is still under investigation.
I’ve got a call in to WDFW’s chief warden in Spokane for the latest.
Meanwhile, the agency’s regional manager, Steve Pozzanghera, says that a necropsy on the body was inconclusive.
“No bullet was located, and there was no indication of metal in the carcass,” he says.
Something like 50 percent of pups die, and from all sorts of things — starvation, other predators, holes in their body …
Pozzanghera allows that the necropsy focused on a puncture wound to the head.
Trappers have been sent to the area this week to capture and collar a member or members of the pack, he says.
2) Another interesting event happened on Profanity Peak earlier this month.
Pozzanghera confirmed the story that a bowhunter was close to a wolf-cattle battle — near where the dead cow and calf were later found.
It occurred Sept. 4, and while the man, who works nearby and whom I’ve left a message for, did not actually see a depredation occur, he was close enough to first hear bellowing bovines and barking and howling, says Pozzanghera.
At first, the hunter shouted out because he thought the operator was near, but there was no response. Getting closer, he realized it was actually wolves, and so he shouted again, says Pozzanghera.
This time, all the noise stopped.
Because the country is so thick — described by one person as a “lodgepole thicket” — and it was unclear what was occurring ahead of him, he decided against going any closer, backed out, and then called the state, says Pozzanghera.
3) Since confirming that the cow and calf were killed by the Profanity wolves approximately a week earlier (an expert says that it’s possible to beat scavenging and decomposition if investigators luck into scraps of hide with bite marks), WDFW has determined that they injured another calf. Pozzanghera believes it will live.
And yesterday, the Capital Press reported the McIrvins said seven more of their cows and calves on Profanity Peak have either been killed or bitten, and that five lone mamas are either dry or still producing milk, meaning the animals may have lost their calves too.
The Diamond M grazes 210 cow-calf pairs on this particular allotment, and a total of 400 pairs west of the home place and south of the U.S.-Canada border in northern Ferry County.
Initially, the cows were going to be moved down the mountain to get to better forage and to get closer to the points they would eventually be trucked out of the woods from at the end of the grazing season in a couple weeks.
But according to Pozzanghera, the operator’s goal has morphed to preventing further depredations.
Word is that at least 100 pairs have been moved out of the hills so far.
Bill McIrvin also said eight of their cows had been shot; he suspected pro-wolf folks. I’ve got a call in to the Ferry County Sheriff’s Office deputy who investigated for more details.
He said that a human presence had been maintained with the herd; a second-hand report said nary a soul was seen during a hike through the region earlier this month.
4) Last month’s sheep depredations by the Huckleberry Pack in southern Stevens County appear to have actually occurred largely on leased state land.
They were initially and still are being reported by some as happening on leased Hancock Timber ground, and a big deal was made about how having to move the sheep away from the wolves was a violation of private property rights.
Maps produced at the request of northern Kitsap Peninsula Senator Christine Rolfes and western Snohomish County Representative Hans Dunshee show two large clusters of kills on Department of Natural Resources property in upper South Fork Chamokane Creek.
WDFW reported that the biggest depredations involved 14 sheep on Aug. 7 to 11, and nine on Aug. 22 to 23.
There are other scattered marks on the maps on Hancock lands in the Middle Fork Chamokane Creek and Hunters Creek denoting depredations.
Following up on inconclusive statements early on in the incident from WDFW brass, lawmakers also asked about whether a herder was with the sheep before the attacks began in early August. The agency could only say that in its timeline from Aug. 10 onwards, the term herder reflects the flock’s owners and anyone they sent up to the hills.
5) The Huckleberries and Profanities aren’t the only Northeast Washington wolves requiring extra attention this summer.
WDFW has dispatched a seasonal tech to the Pend Oreille Valley near Ione specifically to haze the Ruby Creek female away from homes and farms.
The Daily Howler couldn’t make this up if he tried (and trust me, he’s tried to make a comedy out of the situation here), but the wolf has been reported hanging out with horses, chickens — even hounds.
I’m told it can be seen fairly reliably in the area near the junctions of Highways 20 and 31.
“We’re not sure what led the animal to start displaying habituated wolf behavior,” says Pozzanghera.
Back up Highway 20 and to the north, the Smackout Pack female and other members of that pack have been near cattle recently too. While no depredations have been reported, range riders were being or to be joined by state staff to help with hazing.
That may be more difficult than in previous years. No member of the pack currently has a collar. The micced-up alpha male was torn apart by a cougar last spring.
Still, it is worth acknowledging that the Smackouts are one of three packs in the state that have successfully stayed out of trouble with livestock in recent years, probably thanks to the high degree of range riding and other nonlethal measures used to prevent conflicts.
The yin and yang of wolf management can be seen in almost simultaneous sheep-canid encounters in different parts of the state last month.
6) Come on, wolfies, can’t you at least get the right tribe?
A Facebook page called Eastern Washington Wolves appears to have given the name “So Yapo Timke” to the Huckleberry Pack alpha female shot by a WDFW-contracted federal marksman.
Only problem: The name, which apparently means Wise Mother, comes from Nez Perce.
Sure, Chief Joseph and some of his band lived on the Colville Reservation, but that’s also on the other side of Lake Roosevelt and not near the Spokane Tribe’s lands on which the pack runs some of the time.
Reminds me of the “tribute” video for the Wedge Pack, taken out about this time in 2012. It didn’t feature any of the available clips of the pack.
The wolves page also rallied its readers to request the female’s carcass “be returned to the Spokane Tribe of Indians . It is only a matter of respect her body be retuned to near her den site.”
Only problem: the pack actually dens outside the reservation, the tribe told them.
(On the flip side, at least they got an answer out of the Spokanes about wolves, more than I’ve gotten in quite some time now.)
7) Northwest editorial pages are simmering about wolves.
Wolf groups are touting twin pieces this week in The Olympian and Bellingham Herald that are headlined “Another mistake in managing wolf recovery,” and which call the shooting of the alpha female “catastrophic” because of its potential to destabilize the pack.
Adds the op-ed board writer/s — whomever they might be — “Some of the most passionate gray wolf advocates are questioning whether DFW has a tendency to favor the interests of livestock operators.”
Indeed, the agency recently earned the moniker “Washington Department of Fish, Wildlife, Cattle and Sheep” from one of my sources.
The opinion might have a little more heft were it to be written and published by the Yakima Herald-Republic, Wenatchee World or Spokane Spokesman-Review, what I would describe as moderate-on-the-issue papers, or heck, even The Seattle Times.
But lest I be accused of bias, on the other side of the fence, the Salem-based ag-daily Capital Press questioned:
Why don’t wildlife managers immediately remove problem wolves? Experts agree that only a few wolves kill livestock and should be removed as quickly as possible. Yet, in Washington state, managers have twice waited until the problems spiraled out of control before acting. And in the last case, they stopped after only one wolf was dispatched.
So, from that perspective, the agency would be the Washington Department of Fish, Wildlife & Wolf Coddling.
As for Pozzanghera, the last time he checked the patch on his shirt, he actually works for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife — full stop.
“We believe the action was consistent with our wolf management plan,” he says, citing its incremental, escalating approach before lethal removal occurs.
Wolf management is bound to be messy; I don’t think we will have it down to a science until the packs reach Rhode Island.
No matter how much one brother says the other brother is getting better treatment, WDFW is neither the private guard-dog of the state’s sheep, cows, goats and llamas, nor the wolves’ BFF.
In the end, the sheep and Huckleberry wolves were separated, the problem ended, the pack still has plenty of members, they will go forth and multiply, unlike Wedge v. 1.0 members, hopefully having learned a damn lesson about where to stick their noses.
8) Just as wolf groups are talking with their state legislators, Stevens County isn’t going to let it go so easily either (and most likely, neither will Ferry County, according to a source).
Yesterday, its three commissioners passed a resolution declaring that WDFW had “failed” to protect the local livestock industry, and that the Dashiels are short 200 sheep, despite WDFW’s announcement the flock had been moved out of the hills.
The resolution says that if WDFW doesn’t “take immediate action to address the ‘Huckleberry Pack’ and protect the residents of Stevens County, the Stevens County Board of County Commissioners will consider all available options to protect the residents of Stevens County, their families and their property.
“Be it further resolved, Stevens County Board of County Commissioner declares that the wolves of the ‘Huckleberry Pack’ are subject to whatever Constitutional means necessary to secure our public in their lives, liberty and property,” the resolution says.
Commissioners apparently want WDFW to get that door gunner airborne again to take out three more Huckleberry wolves, but unless the agency was telling the herder something that it wasn’t saying publicly, the goal was to “remove up to four wolves” — note the clause.
A source indicates that the McIrvins are considering not running cattle in this country any more because of increased death rates. That could potentially impact the local economy, which is no small matter in this country.
9) Other parts of the aforementioned Capital Press’s opinion piece, frankly, were somewhat puzzling given its reporters’ quality coverage of wolf issues in the Northwest.
Considering that hindsight is 20-20, the column headlined “Questions we have about wolves” makes a good point about why we ever needed to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone and Central Idaho in the mid-1990s in the first place (something about Congress) when it’s since become abundantly obvious that, heck, the critters already in Northwest Montana and just across the Canadian border could have done it by themselves, they like to disperse so much and so widely.
But then inexplicably, the Press raises questions about where OR7’s mate came from:
“Then, all of the sudden, he ran into a female wolf in a place where no wolves were known to exist. Was she air-dropped there? Was she already there and wildlife managers didn’t know? Did he put an ad on Craig’s List?”
Seriously, when are we hunters and ranchers going to take off our tinfoil hats and accept that lovelorn and footloose wolves don’t need any damn help to cross vast distances?
Let the wolfies come up with all the mystical-sounding names they want — we shouldn’t make ourselves look like kooks by spouting the ol’ Schwan’s Truck/biologist’s pickup/livestock trailer stories.
10) And finally, here I thought I had plenty of reading material this week in the form of piles and piles of copy editing for our October issues!
Well, WDFW’s wolf advisory group has 126 pages worth of handouts to read through for its Sept. 25 meeting.
Among the papers they’ll be perusing:
Evaluating Wolf Translocation as a Nonlethal Method to Reduce Livestock Conflicts in the Northwestern United States
AN EVALUATION OF WOLF-LIVESTOCK CONFLICTS AND MANAGEMENT IN THE NORTHWESTERN UNITED STATES
Assessing factors related to wolf depredation of cattle in fenced pastures in Montana and Idaho
Wolf-livestock conflict in Huckleberry pack, 2014
Let’s hope that Wolf-livestock conflict in Profanity Peak pack, 2014, isn’t as lengthy as that last report on the list.