Category Archives: Wolf News

Congress Moving Different Directions On Sea Lions, Wolves

Attempts in Congress to give state managers more latitude to deal with two of the most polarizing predators in the Northwest these days are going in opposite directions.

Yesterday saw the US Senate pass a bill that would expand where sea lions could be removed on the Columbia River system, and while the House of Representatives must still concur, a bill delisting gray wolves passed last month by the lower chamber will not go anywhere in the upper house in December, it now appears.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. THE ENDANGERED SALMON AND FISHERIES PREDATION ACT PASSED BY THE SENATE AND WHICH GOES NOW TO THE HOUSE WOULD GIVE STATE MANAGERS MORE LATITUDE TO LETHALLY REMOVE THE SPECIES IN TRIBUTARIES OF THE COLUMBIA. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

The Manage Our Wolves Act, cosponsored by two Eastern Washington Republican representatives will likely die in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works as federal lawmakers’ workload piles up at the end of the two-year session.

Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) indicated federal budgetary issues would take precedence, according to a report from the DC Bureau of the McClatchy news service.

And even if the Republican-controlled Senate were to still pass the bill in 2019, with November’s election changing the balance of power in the House, a spokeswoman for the new chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), told wire reporter Kellen Browning flatly that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years.

It’s probably best to let the biologists determine when a species is recovered rather than run things through Congress like this, but that also takes time and meanwhile frustrations mount over very real concerns and unintended consequences of 1970s’ environmental protections, and the drag-it-out-in-the-courts approach the laws have inspired in some in the environmental community.

In the case of the wolves of the river, Marine Mammal Protection Act-listed sea lions are taking unacceptably large bites out of Endangered Species Act-listed Columbia salmon and steelhead, putting their recovery — not to mention the tens, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on it — in the watershed at increasing risk.

With pushing from fishermen, state wildlife agencies, tribal managers, even conservation organizations, a bipartisan coalition of Northwest senators and representatives has now been able get sea lion bills passed in both houses of Congress this year.

But even as we live in an era when the back door to delistings and amended protections is being opened wider and wider, it appears that for the time being we’ll need to go through the front one, the traditional way, to clear the wolves of the woods off the ESA list.

Once again.

Back in June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly announced that it had begun to review the status of the species in the Lower 48 for, what, the third? fourth? time since the early 2000s due to court actions.

That could lead to the delisting of gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington, Oregon and elsewhere in their range, handing over management from USFWS to WDFW, ODFW and other agencies.

A PAIR OF WOLVES CAPTURED ON A TRAIL CAMERA NEAR MT. HOOD. (ODFW)

This morning I asked the feds for an update on how that was proceeding and they sent me a statement that was very similar to one they emailed out around the summer solstice.

Here’s what today’s said:

“The USFWS is currently reviewing the status of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Working closely with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, we will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the lower 48 states using the best available scientific information. On completion of the review, the Service will, if appropriate, publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment.”

With six long months ahead of it, June’s version had this as the third sentence: “If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year.”

Now it’s more open-ended.

And comparing a second paragraph USFWS sent along as background, the update has removed the words “under the previous administration,” a reference to the 2013 proposal by the Obama Administration’s USFWS Director Dan Ashe.

The rest of that para touches on the “sound science” that went into that determination and the court action that subsequently derailed it.

It sounds like the science is strong with the sea lion removal authorization, so let’s hope that once the House agrees and president signs it, it isn’t challenged in court, and if it is, that it clears the hurdles that are thrown up — and which lead to bypassing the judicial system all together.

WDFW, UW Set To Again Collar Deer, Elk, Wolves, Lions For 5-yr NE WA Predator-Prey Study

THE FOLLOWING IS A WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff will start capturing deer in northeast Washington in early December and fit them with radio-collars as part of an ongoing predator-prey study that began two years ago.

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

The study, scheduled to run at least five years, will help to assess the impact of wolves, cougars, and other predators on deer and elk by monitoring the interactions of all species.

This winter, researchers hope to capture at least 30 white-tailed deer in Stevens and Pend Oreille counties – primarily on public land, but also on private land where WDFW has secured landowner permission. Capture techniques include trapping animals using bait, entangling them in drop nets, and darting them with immobilization drugs from the ground.

The study plan also calls for radio-collaring wolves, cougars, bobcats, and coyotes in Stevens, Pend Oreille, and Okanogan counties. Some wolves are already radio-collared in those areas, but researchers want to maintain collars on at least two wolves in each of the packs within the study area. Cougar capture work with the use of dogs will get underway in late November, followed by bobcat and coyote captures using box traps and foothold traps after Jan. 1.

Collaborating researchers from the University of Washington (UW) will join WDFW research scientists and field biologists to monitor radio-collared ungulates and track their movements, distribution, habitat use, diet, productivity and survival. Cougars will be monitored to learn about changes in social behavior, population dynamics, prey selection and movements in areas where wolves also occur.

State wildlife managers ask that hunters who harvest a radio-collared deer or elk – and residents who encounter a dead radio-collared animal – contact WDFW’s Eastern Region office in Spokane Valley (509-892-1001), so researchers can recover the collar and collect biological samples from the carcasses.

Funding for the five-year study comes from a 2015 state legislative appropriation, federal Pittman-Robertson funds, and state wildlife funds.The UW also secured National Science Foundation grant funds for part of the project.

So About That ‘Wolf’ Story I Shared …

When is a wolf not precisely a wolf?

Sometimes on Sunday mornings of long holiday weekends when your Google News Alerts for “Stevens County Wolf” sends you a link to an overnight story and you open it without having your coffee first.

NORTHERN FERRY COUNTY WOLF, 2014. (WDFW)

In this case it was a piece in the Spokane Spokesman-Review detailing a hunter’s encounter over the carcass of his deer last month.

Reading it twice and glancing at the image on my smartphone I decided to share it on Facebook as another example in the continuing saga of wolf recolonization in Washington and for the hunter’s cool reaction under duress.

Andrew Norby had killed a whitetail buck near Jump Off Joe Lake the afternoon of Oct. 20 and as he wrapped up butchering the carcass of the deer he felt he was being watched.

“I looked up and about 20 to 25 yards to my left, there was what I assumed was a wolf,” Norby told the newspaper’s outdoor reporter Eli Francovich. “He just kind of snuck up on me while I was working with all the meat.”

Norby explained how he parried the animal’s aggressive moves towards the deer with his own reactions, but decided against shooting it or even blasting off a warning shot as he believed it would have resulted in “a mess to try and explain to someone why I shot a wolf. I had no wish to be mauled or anything, but also no wish to go through that process.”

I had a buttload of stuff to do on Sunday — thorough house cleaning, catch snippets of the Hawks game, shop for the week, kid birthday party — but as I checked in from time to time I saw that, as with all things wolf, the reaction on Facebook to my story share was of course heated.

Partly that was due to the Spokesman-Review‘s initial headline that carried over in the link, “Wolf steals deer from Stevens County hunter.”

That did not accurately reflect the events in the field, and in my share I noted things actually occurred over the carcass of the buck, meaning most of the meat had already been removed.

I could have done a better job relating that as even though that info was in the narrative of the newspaper’s story, lord knows I’ve been known to react to just a headline too.

But questions also began to arise from readers on our Facebook page and elsewhere whether said wolf was actually a wolf.

Later on Sunday the SSR changed the headline to “Canine steals deer from Stevens County,” which I added as an update to the online thread Monday morning when I got to work.

Looking more closely at the accompanying image of the animal on my large desktop monitor I also facepalmed myself for not having blown it up on my phone to better scrutinize it in the first place.

The sleek coat and the shape of its body from head to paws suggested to me something more along the lines of a sled dog.

Of course I’m not an expert, but, er, doggedly following the story himself, reporter Francovich heard back from someone who is for a subsequent update yesterday afternoon.

Longtime wolf researcher Paul Paquet, a former Canadian Wildlife Services biologist now associated with Project Coyote, said it looked to him like “a husky mix (malamute, Siberian?) and possible hybrid (wolf X dog).”

But Paquet added that like Norby, “given the circumstances, I would likely have thought this was a wolf.”

In following the wolf issue in Washington over the past decade, I’ve found that wolf reports beget wolf reports.

That is, the mere mention of wolves will have people relating all sorts of sightings, howls, tracks and suspicious events.

Some are in fact legit; others, like the one posted this past Saturday on WDFW’s observation page of two in somebody’s yard not far from Redmond Town Center, less so.

I’m not blaming Eli or the SSR’s headline writer one bit — what do they say about people and glass houses?

Rather, with how hot wolf news burns, this will serve as a reminder to yours truly that even as a greater and greater percentages of events are legit, a cool eye is still needed for each and every one to accurately report on wolves in Washington and all that comes with it.

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.

Last 2 O.P.T. Pack Wolves To Be Lethally Removed

Washington wolf managers will take out what they say are the last two Old Profanity Territory Pack wolves after a 16th attack on a producer’s grazing cattle in the Kettle Range of northern Ferry County in less than two months.

The latest depredation, a dead calf, was investigated October 23rd and came after an adult and a juvenile member were lethally removed in September.

The pack was initially believed to include three or four adults and two or three juveniles.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind’s kill reauthorization follows an evaluation period that saw an additional attack by the pack investigated Oct. 7 that could have triggered action but he “sustained the evaluation period to consider the details and complexities of the situation in the field.”

A statement this morning from the agency also reiterated that the allotment is large, wild and completely within the OPT pack’s range, and that following an October 5th depredation “the department took additional steps to document the range-riding operation on the allotment to make sure it is as effective as” can be.

While WDFW doesn’t name the producer, it is known to be the Diamond M Ranch, which has previously suffered depredations by the Wedge and Profanity Peak Packs, triggering other lethal removals.

The state says the rancher is using non-lethal methods to try and stave off wolf attacks including contracting with range riders, removing sick stock off the range and dealing with carcasses.

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.