Updated 5:42 p.m., Sept. 12, 2018
WDFW plans to go after wolves in a Ferry County pack that has killed or injured at least six calves in rugged country this month.
The agency will begin incremental removals — meaning one or two animals — to change the pack’s behavior starting tomorrow afternoon if an eight-hour business-day window passes without challenge from wolf advocates. One appears likely.
A similar kill authorization last month for a depredating pack just to the north led to a temporary restraining order after out-of-state groups sued WDFW.
That one involved the Togo Pack and was lifted in late August by a Thurston County judge.
The latest incidents involve the Old Profanity Territory, or OPT, Pack which runs to the south, in the same country that the Profanity Peak and Sherman Packs occupied before members were lethally removed the past two summers.
“This is a very difficult situation, especially given the history of wolf-livestock conflict in this area,” WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said in a statement. “We are committed to working with a diversity of stakeholders in a collaborative process to seek other creative and adaptive solutions to prevent future losses of wolves and livestock.”
The criteria for considering lethal removal is three confirmed attacks in a 30-day span or four over 10 months, and the former was met in the space of half a week.
But unlike other recent removals, some members of the agency’s Wolf Advisory Group have balked this go-around.
“… In our eyes the state killing wolves in one general area three years in a row for the same livestock producers does not fit within the intent and letter of the (lethal removal) protocol,” said Chase Gunnell of Conservation Northwest this morning.
Another staffer said that the mix of preventative and lethal tactics is not working in the area but the organization said it was willing to “roll up our sleeves” on short-term nonlethal measures instead.
Shawn Cantrell, the state representative for Defenders of Wildlife, called the kill order inappropriate and suggested the right nonlethal measures nor grazing practices had been implemented.
But some WAG members are sticking by WDFW’s side.
“I am very proud of Director Kelly Susewind for standing tall and doing the right thing in authorizing lethal action on the OPT Pack,” said Dave Duncan of Ellensburg. “I was greatly disappointed with the conservation groups taking a stand against lethal action and blaming overstressed cattlemen, who have been pushed into and required to perform in a costly experiential and sometimes unreliable concept of animal husbandry. They are the real heroes in wolf management today and without a doubt need more tools, support and relief.”
According to WDFW, the rancher — identified by the Capital Press as Len McIrvin of the Diamond M — grazing his cattle on a Forest Service allotment has been using “several” of the preventative measures called for by the protocol, including turning out calves nearly a month and a half later than otherwise allowed under the grazing agreement, using range riders, and removing sick and injured animals and taking care of carcasses.
The OPT Pack includes three or four adults and two juveniles, according to WDFW. An adult male has been wearing a GPS collar since early June.
Data from it showed that when the cattle were turned out July 10, the pack was denning “north and adjacent to the allotment where the depredations occurred” and that the initial rendezvous site was 2.5 miles northwest of the den site.
However, by mid-August, telemetry showed that wolves were now heavily using an area 5.5 miles to the southeast, in the grazing area, leading to increased range riding and coordination with the rancher to head off conflicts.
That appears to have not worked.
Last night the state reported that the bones and bits of three calves had also been found in the area in late August, but there was too little remaining to determine their causes of death.
Still, it led to increased range-riding patrols and efforts to move the cattle away from the area, according to WDFW.
Then on Sept. 4 two injured calves were found, followed by a dead one Sept. 5 and two more injured ones Sept. 6 and 7.
All were confirmed to have been attacked by wolves, as was a sixth in recent hours.
Nonlethal measures put into place after the initial attacks haven’t worked, says WDFW, which believes the depredations will continue.
“It’s not a sustainable situation. It’s a wreck,” McIrvin told Capital Press reporter Don Jenkins.
McIrvin estimated 30 to 40 calves had already been lost and when the grazing season is done, the loss will be double that, and he is expecting decreased pregnancy rates and lighter cattle brought to market.
WDFW says about 20 cows are still in the area being used heavily by the OPT Pack.
According to The Seattle Times, the Center for Biological Diversity is planning to file another request for a TRO.
That, however, was not specifically mentioned in a press release in which CBD stated it and a number of other wolf advocacy organizations will rally this Friday at noon outside WDFW headquarters and plan to stage a “die-in.”
The agency says its lethal removals won’t hurt efforts to recover wolves across Washington.
“In fact, the wolf population in the eastern recovery region has increased to more than three times the regional recovery objective,” the agency states.