Category Archives: Wolf News

11 Million Trail Cam Pics Later, IDFG’s New Wolf Count Technique Yields Estimate Of 1,541 In 2019

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho Fish and Game has a new estimate of the statewide wolf population through its new survey method using game cameras and mathematical modeling, which will be repeated annually and fine-tuned during the next few years.

At the Fish and Game Commission meeting on Jan. 23 in Boise, staff reported there were an estimated 1,541 wolves in the state during summer 2019. The estimate represents the peak population shortly after pups were born.

AN IDAHO WOLF CAUGHT ON A TRAIL CAMERA. (IDFG)

Fish and Game biologists have not estimated the statewide wolf population in Idaho since 2015. From 2006 to 2015, Fish and Game’s wolf monitoring program remained under federal oversight. During that time, the department maintained enough radio collared wolves to show there were more than 15 breeding pairs in the state and more than 150 total wolves. Those surveys were intended to show the wolf population exceeded targets needed to remove them from federal protection and oversight.

Biologists cautioned that comparing the 2015 estimate of 786 (reported in early 2016) to the current estimate would be misleading because previous estimates were based on different methods and represented winter counts when the population was closer to its lowest point of the year.

Annual wolf mortality ramps up during late summer, fall, and into winter with hunting and trapping seasons, along with management actions to remove wolves that prey on livestock. Natural mortality is also a factor.

After completion of the camera survey, there were 327 wolves known to have been killed through hunting, trapping, management actions, and other human causes. Researchers were also able to estimate that an additional 208 wolves died of natural causes based on previous research. These mortalities were not reflected in 1,541 population estimate.

How the population estimate was generated

During the spring and early summer of 2019, Idaho Fish and Game staff deployed 569 cameras specifically for estimating wolf abundance, which took about 11 million photos over the course of a few months. Of the 569 cameras, 259 of them detected wolves.

AN IDFG BIOLOGIST HANGS A TRAIL CAMERA FOR THE NEW SURVEY. (IDFG)

Aided by recognition software to rapidly determine photos of animals, wildlife technicians identified species of animals in the photos and biologists and university scientists applied mathematical modeling to produce the wolf population estimate.

The wolf monitoring is part of a larger statewide project using game cameras to estimate populations for a variety of species. Recent monitoring of deer populations in Southeast Idaho using game cameras while simultaneously using traditional aerial surveys produced almost identical results, which showed wildlife managers they could get valid population estimates for certain species using the camera method.

The method of estimating wildlife populations using remote cameras is a new innovation. As time goes on, the modeling will continue to be refined as biologists use this technique to generate annual population estimates. Going forward, they will also have a better baseline for comparing populations from year to year.

King County Judge Rules For WDFW In 2nd Wolf Removal Lawsuit

Another Westside judge has ruled that WDFW doesn’t need to run its wolf removal protocols through the State Environmental Policy Act, the second court defeat for litigious wolf activists in just over two months.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

King County Superior Court Judge John F. McHale today reaffirmed the agency’s argument that lethal control of depredating wolves flows from the 2011 management plan for the species, and that each removal is carefully considered.

“The Court finds that WDFW’s referenced last resort approach allows for true case by case consideration that fits within … categorical exemptions … and that the lethal action challenged in this lawsuit is not part of a WDFW common scheme or plan for which actions can be seen as combined to the point that they require SEPA analysis,” McHale wrote in his three-page decision.

The lawsuit was filed by two King County residents — Genevieve Jaquez-Schumacher and John Huskinson — and Tim Coleman of Ferry County over 2019’s removals of the Old Profanity Territory Pack in Northeast Washington’s Kettle Range.

McHale dismissed their two SEPA claims, just as Thurston County Superior Court Judge John C. Skinder did last November with a lawsuit filed by Arizona- and Oregon-based wolf advocates over removals done in 2018 in the same region.

Both lawsuits aimed to throw a wrench in 2017’s hard-won wolf removal protocols, arrived at after extensive input between WDFW and members of its Wolf Advisory Group, and only implemented in the federally delisted eastern third of the state.

The plaintiffs argued that the protocols should have undergone a SEPA review, a long process that in the meanwhile would have handicapped the state’s ability to remove wolves to try and head off further cattle and sheep depredations.

WDFW argued that taking out livestock-attacking wolves falls “squarely within several SEPA categorical exemptions” and pointed to state Supreme Court case law, state statutes and administrative codes.

After hearing oral arguments in his downtown Seattle courtroom Jan. 3, McHale dismissed the two SEPA claims “with prejudice,” meaning they can’t be brought again.

As he said following that November decision, WDFW wolf policy manager Donny Martorello stated that rather than go to court over wolf-livestock conflict issues, he’d prefer to work collaboratively on them.

“This decision lets us continue to do that,” Martorello said.

Both lawsuits also include a third claim that has yet to be resolved.

Meanwhile, Governor Jay Inslee last fall told the agency to “make changes in the gray wolf recovery program to further increase the reliance on non-lethal methods, and to significantly reduce the need for lethal removal of this species” in Ferry County’s Kettle Range.

Judge Hears Arguments On Latest WDFW Wolf Removal Lawsuit

A King County judge will take a week or so to mull arguments for and against WDFW removing problem wolves in Eastern Washington after a court hearing in Downtown Seattle today.

A CENTRAL WASHINGTON WOLF IDENTIFIED AS A MEMBER OF THE TEANAWAY PACK. (WDFW)

“He wants to think about it a little longer,” said agency spokeswoman Staci Lehman about Superior Court Judge John McHale’s review of yet another lawsuit over whether WDFW should have done a State Environmental Policy Act review before killing wolves that attack cattle, sheep and other domestic stock in the federally delisted eastern third of Washington.

This latest one focuses on 2019’s removals of the Old Profanity Territory Pack and was filed by two King County residents — Genevieve Jaquez-Schumacher and John Huskinson — and Tim Coleman of Ferry County.

Their attorney likened it to a “kill program” that should have been run through SEPA for what the Capital Press paraphrased as a “big-picture look at the cumulative effects of killing wolves.”

A similar lawsuit over 2018 removals and filed by out-of-state pro-wolfers was partially dismissed by Thurston County Superior Court Judge John C. Skinder in early November.

In that latter case, WDFW argued that taking out livestock-attacking wolves falls “squarely within several SEPA categorical exemptions” and pointed to state Supreme Court case law, state statutes and administrative codes.

The agency says that its lethal removal protocols — arrived at after extensive input from members of its Wolf Advisory Group — “flow from” its 2011 Fish and Wildlife Commission-approved management plan for the species.

While Judge Skinder issued his decision to dismiss SEPA claims the same fall day as that hearing, WDFW’s Lehman says it’s not unusual for judges to take some time to consider the arguments.

“The ruling will be made in writing by either next Friday or the following Monday and all parties involved will not have to go back to court for that,” she said.

Washington’s wolf population has grown every year since the first pack was confirmed in 2008 and despite WDFW lethal operations to try and head off continued livestock depredations in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Judge Dismisses SEPA Portion Of Lawsuit Over WDFW Wolf Removals

A Thurston County Superior Court judge today ruled against out-of-state environmentalist groups targeting Washington’s protocols for lethally removing problem wolves.

The Center for Biological Diversity of Arizona and Cascadia Wildlands of Eugene said the guidelines adopted in 2017 should have been evaluated under the State Environmental Policy Act and before three kill orders were issued last year, but Judge John C. Skinder dismissed their two claims to that effect.

(WIKIMEDIA)

In court papers, WDFW argued that taking out livestock-attacking wolves falls “squarely within several SEPA categorical exemptions” and pointed to state Supreme Court case law, state statutes and administrative codes.

The agency said that the organizations were misreading the act to try to include its wolf-livestock protocols, which guide nonlethal and lethal responses to attacks on cattle, sheep and other domestic animals, as part of the SEPA process.

WDFW’s wolf management plan did go through the environmental review before it was adopted in 2011, and the protocols are said to “flow from” that document.

Even as it represents another court victory against those chivvying WDFW over its predator management, wolf policy manager Donny Martorello was subdued early this afternoon in response to Judge Skinder’s decision.

“Our preference is not to be in court. I’m not a fan of winners and losers. I prefer the Wolf Advisory Group’s collaborative process,” he stated. “I concur that the judge’s decision was concurrent with case history, concurrent with state statute and Fish and Wildlife Commission rules, and I think it’s the right decision.”

The lawsuit was filed last fall by the two pro-wolf organizations after agency Director Kelly Susewind issued authorizations to kill members of three packs that were depredating cattle in Ferry and Stevens Counties.

WDFW, CBD and Cascadia Wildlands agreed to drop a third claim over a kill permit that had been extended to a Togo Pack range rancher.

A fourth claim, a merits hearing on whether removals violate the state’s Administrative Procedure Act, has not yet been scheduled, according to Martorello.

Killing wolves is a hot topic in Washington as WDFW attempts to balance recovering the species with the impact the animals have on local ranchers and herds.

Earlier this fall, Governor Jay Inslee told the agency to “make changes in the gray wolf recovery program to further increase the reliance on non-lethal methods, and to significantly reduce the need for lethal removal of this species” in Ferry County’s Kettle Range.

The agency is currently in a public scoping period for what’s important to hunters and other residents as it begins planning for postrecovery management of wolves in Washington.

Wolves A Topic As WDFW Director Appears On TVW

While Washington hunters’ and anglers’ kids were out trick-or-treating last night, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind was on TVW’s Inside Olympia, speaking on agency hot-button items of the day — if not the past decade.

Budget; wolves; salmon production, fishing seasons and orca recovery; sea lion management; and Columbia gillnetting.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND (RIGHT) APPEARED ON INSIDE OLYMPIA WITH HOST AUSTIN JENKINS TO TALK ABOUT VARIOUS FISH AND WILDLIFE ISSUES. (TVW)

Given Governor Jay Inslee’s recent letter to WDFW on wolves and its response, and a court hearing today with two environmental groups, host Austin Jenkins dedicated a full third of his near-hour-long show to the subject of Canis lupus in Washington.

Watching it this morning, my ears perked up when the subject of wolf hunting came up for several minutes.

“It’s a legitimate hunting activity.”
–WDFW Director Kelly Susewind

That topic is among the boxes, per se, folks can check off as an important one to them in the agency’s extended scoping survey as it begins planning for postrecovery wolf management.

In the interest of sharing with fellow hunters where WDFW’s at with the issue, here’s how the conversation went down, based on a corrected transcript:

Austin Jenkins: In a kind of post-protected status environment, can you imagine a management plan that allows for the hunting of wolves?

Kelly Susewind: It’s certainly on the table. It’s a controversial issue. I don’t know if we’ll get there or not — that will be the outcome of our processes — but it certainly needs to be on the table. It’s been an activity that occurs in other states when they’ve reached the recovery stage.

AJ: And why does it need to be on the table? Is that a management question?

KS: Well, I guess it doesn’t have to be. To me it’s a process question, it’s good governance. We’re going into this with an open mind; we have no preconceived notions of what a postdelisting plan looks like. And so I want virtually everything on the table. Let’s give it a thorough vetting with a broad public base. Let’s understand where the citizens want to be on this issue.

We could manage with or without a hunting season. I think as you get the bigger numbers, there’s just the realities of what it’s going to take to manage, and we have to manage: It’s an apex predator. It’s wonderful that we’re getting to recovery; we have to manage in a way where they can coexist with humans.

A WASHINGTON HUNTER TAKES A LOOK AT A MOUNTAINSIDE AS HIS SHADOW STRETCHES OUT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

AJ: I think people can, and even if somebody who doesn’t hunt themselves might, understand hunting fowl, they might understand hunting deer and elk, because clearly when you hunt those animals you’re getting meat and you can eat them and there’s sort of this reason for, you know, getting your own food source. Hunting wolves doesn’t necessarily have that correlation, so what would be the purpose for hunting wolves other than somebody doesn’t like them and wants a tag to go kill them, or the sport of it, or perhaps because it’s a way to augment population control to the extent the agency wants and needs to do that?

KS: I would hope it would be the latter two. We don’t want folks out there killing wolves because they don’t like wolves. It’s a legitimate hunting activity. It’s not for protein, as you said, but hopefully — not hopefully, it has to be if we allow it — it has to be done as a part of management control, population control. 

From that perspective, there are a lot of folks out there who would like to enjoy going out and pursuing. It would be a challenge, to say the least. To do this from the ground in the way that we hunt in this state would be a challenge for folks. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, we again no preconceived notion of how that turns out.

Certainly there’s less of an appetite for hunting that’s not associated with food, with gathering protein, so it’s tougher in general. Then you bring in the passion people have for wolves. We’re a long ways from getting to a hunting season, I think.

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

Since they were delisted in the early years of this decade wolves have been hunted in northeastern Washington by the Colville and Spokane Tribes, both on and off reservation, and now year-round with no limit on how many can be taken.

State managers have never worried that tribal hunting seasons would be a conservation concern either in that well-wolfed corner of Washington, or beyond.

Then again, there’s not much they — or even the fiercest of pro-wolfers — can do about it, as the tribes are sovereign nations and can manage wildlife how they want.

As for whether state hunters will one day be able to pursue wolves, there’s a two-part answer to that.

The technical process — the road map to a hunt — is easy.

It needs to be part of the environmental impact statement that will be developed out of this fall’s scoping process. The Fish and Wildlife Commission has to approve the plan with that element, downlist the status of wolves from state endangered to game species as they meet the recovery goals, and then set regulations and seasons.

The more difficult part is that wolf hunts are a “magnitudes bigger issue” than wolf-livestock conflict, which itself is huge.

There will be titanic headwinds and icy waters to steer through.

One avenue may be mediation between the sides — hunters, wolf lovers and other interested instate parties — just like how the disparate interests on WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group came together to agree on nonlethal preventative work and lethal protocols for removing wolves that attack cattle, sheep and other domestic animals.

Yet even as the idea is now percolating, as it were, it may also be on that stove for quite some time.

“We’re a long ways from getting to a hunting season, I think.”
–Susewind

Meanwhile, the scoping period that will help shape the draft environmental impact statement for how to manage wolves postrecovery continues through 5 p.m., Nov. 15.

It would behoove us hunters to register our thoughts formally. The time it takes to leave yet another comment on a Facebook wolf post isn’t much longer than it takes to fill out the seven-field questionnaire.

Go here.

Washington Wolf Scoping Comment Period Extended To Mid-Nov.

WDFW has extended the public scoping comment period for how to manage postdelisted wolves in Washington into mid-November.

It had been scheduled to wrap up tomorrow at 5 p.m.

A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED A NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON WOLF PACKING QUARTERS OF WHITETAIL FAWN BACK TO THE DEN. (JEFF FLOOD)

“This gives people more time to submit input, especially those in rural areas without internet service,” the agency stated in a press release out yesterday.

Under the current management plan recovery goals have yet to be met but with that not too far off, the scoping period is essentially the first step in the process towards developing an environmental impact statement, which as a draft will be open for public comment with open houses likely.

You can have your thoughts recorded via wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/gray-wolf/post-recovery-planning or mail them to Lisa Wood, SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, WDFW Habitat Program, Protection Division, P.O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504.

Deadline for either is Nov. 15, with 5 p.m. being the cutoff point for online comments and mailed-in ones needed to be postmarked by that day.

It’s Public Comment Season In The P.N.W.: Sea Lions, Wolves, Grizzlies

Editor’s note: Since this blog was posted Monday, Oct. 28, WDFW has announced that the public scoping period for future wolf management planning will extend through 5 p.m. Nov. 15.

As one public comment period closed last week, two others important to Northwest sportsmen will end soon as well.

Tuesday, Oct. 29 is when commenting wraps up on a proposal by the three Northwest states and several tribes to remove California and Steller sea lions in an expanded part of the Lower Columbia watershed, while this Friday afternoon is when the scoping period for postrecovery wolf management planning ends in Washington.

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. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

Last Thursday saw the second comment period on plans to recover grizzly bears in the North Cascades wrap up following several well-attended meetings in the region.

Following passage of the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act by Congress last winter, IDFG, ODFW, WDFW and the Nez Perce Tribe, Yakama Nation and other tribal partners in the Columbia Basin put in for a permit that would allow removals of sea lions in tributaries with listed salmon and steelhead runs, as well as in the Columbia from river mile 112, around Washougal, up to McNary Dam.

Currently, sea lions are only being taken out in the mainstem at Bonneville.

It’s not a ultimate cure-all for all the woes Chinook, coho, summer-runs and other stocks face — many other species chew on them and fish habitat has been radically altered — but already the ability to remove the marine mammals is showing results at Willamette Falls.

According to a Bill Monroe article in The Oregonian late last week, sea lion predation of winter steelhead and spring Chinook there has dropped by as much as 75 and 55 percent, respectively, since Oregon received a federal permit.

ODFW took out 33 last winter and spring, and that has greatly increased the odds that the ESA-listed steelhead stock will not go extinct, “probably to less than 10 percent,” according to the agency’s Dr. Shaun Clement, Monroe reported.

A SEA LION FLINGS A SALMONID AT WILLAMETTE FALLS. (ODFW)

To comment on the expanded program in the Columbia, go here by tomorrow.

As for Washington wolf management, 5 p.m. Nov. 1 is the deadline to register your thoughts as WDFW looks towards the next phase of the species’ recovery in the state.

There are two options, a scoping questionaire that asks for your age, sex, county of residence, whether you live in a rural, suburban or urban area, whether you identify as a hunter, livestock producer, outdoor recreationist or environmentalist, and a list to check off the topics most important to you in terms of wolf management.

That takes less than two minutes, but another option allows for more submitting more expansive thoughts.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS WHERE COMMENTS ON ITS PUBLIC SCOPING PERIOD ON FUTURE WASHINGTON WOLF MANAGEMENT WERE COMING FROM, AS OF OCT. 17, 2019. (WDFW)

When the Fish and Wildlife Commission met a week and a half ago, wolf managers updated them on how the scoping process was going through Oct. 17, and wolf hunting and wolf-livestock conflicts were the two most important topics among respondents, followed by wolf conservation and monitoring.

Translocation — moving nonproblem wolves from one part of the state to others — was the least important.

Rural residents and outdoor recreationists have been among those participating in the survey in the highest numbers.

Don’t believe your voice counts in public comment?

With WDFW proposing a blanket elimination of daily and size limits on bass, walleye and channel catfish in 146 lakes across Washington (most don’t have the latter two species, but the first are widespread), testimony heard by the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their October meeting had the citizen panel pushing back and asking for a more refined proposal from fishery managers as the state agency tries to follow a legislative directive to provide more forage fish for orcas.

Hunter Candidates Needed For WDFW Wolf Advisory Group

Hunters are being called on to put in their application to serve on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wolf Advisory Group.

It’s a key time to join the panel and comes as many Evergreen State sportsmen are also preparing for the opening of rifle deer season this weekend and Eastside elk later in the month.

A LATE-SEASON BLACKTAIL HUNTER LOOKS OVER WESTERN WASHINGTON REPROD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The three-year term will overlap WDFW’s development of post state delisting wolf management planning, and follows on the WAG’s steady focus on livestock conflicts since it was formed in 2013.

“This group has been extremely helpful in advising the department on the challenging issue of recovering and managing gray wolves in our state,” Director Kelly Susewind said in a press release. “We are looking for candidates who value working cooperatively with others to develop management recommendations to advise the agency.”

WDFW is also looking for representatives from the ranching, environmental and at-large communities to fill out four vacancies.

Around this time last year, when the agency made a similar call as other seats came open, a hunter urged their fellow sportsmen to put in for the WAG.

Applications are being taken through 5 p.m., Nov. 8. To apply or nominate someone, WDFW is asking for:

* The applicant or nominee’s name, address, telephone number, and email address;
* People or groups making nominations must also submit their own names and contact information;
* The candidate’s relevant experience, organizational affiliations, and reasons why they would be an effective advisory group member;
* Familiarity with Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and current wolf recovery status and management issues; and
* Experience in collaborating with people with different values.

Materials should either be emailed to wildthing@dfw.wa.gov or mailed to WDFW, P. O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504-3200.

First Wolf In Washington’s Blues Removed After Cattle Attacks

WDFW reported today that it took out a Grouse Flats wolf late last month, making it the first to be killed by state managers in Washington’s Blue Mountains in response to cattle depredations there.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE ROUGH LOCATION OF THE GROUSE FLATS PACK’S RANGE, ON THE SOUTHEAST SIDE OF SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON’S BLUE MOUNTAINS. (WDFW)

The agency describes the animal as an adult female and says it’s likely the breeding female of a pack that numbered at least nine before Director Kelly Susewind authorized the incremental removal operation Sept. 24.

The Asotin-Garfield County wolves are blamed on at least seven attacks on cows and calves since August 2018, including four in the last 10 months and two in a recent 30-day period.

The incidents occurred on a mix of federal and state grazing lands and private ground.

WDFW says it’s now entered the evaluation period with the pack to see if the removal changes its behavior, “for example by disrupting the overlap of wolves and livestock, or reducing the caloric intake needs for the pack.”

There are six adults and two juveniles in the group, according to spokeswoman Staci Lehman.

The removal occurred Sept. 25, nearly a week before Gov. Jay Inslee sent WDFW a letter to do more nonlethal and less lethal management of wolves elsewhere in Eastern Washington.

“We must find new methods to better support co-existence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state. The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable,” the governor wrote Sept. 30 about issues in the Kettle Range that cropped up during the summers of 2019, 2018 and 2016, primarily with Diamond M Ranch cattle grazing in the Colville National Forest.

By one count, around a dozen and a half wolves — members of the Profanity and Old Profanity Territory Packs — have been removed there following chronic depredations of dozens upon dozens of cows and calves.

Wolf advocates welcomed the news while WDFW’s response to Inslee’s request was said to be “muted” by the Capital Press.

The ag-world news source also paraphrased the federal forest’s range supervisor as saying “that he doesn’t know of anything else to test, short of canceling grazing permits or closing allotments” to do in terms of nonlethal tactics.

“Anything outside of that, we have tried,” Travis Fletcher told the Press. “I would say there’s not a producer we work with who hasn’t adjusted their practices in some way.”

Inslee asked WDFW to fast track an ongoing lethal management guidelines update and work with the Forest Service, as well as gave the agency a Dec. 1 deadline for a progress report.

Most Washington wolf packs stay out of trouble with livestock, 90 percent, according to WDFW, a higher percentage than nearby states.

WDFW Responds To Inslee’s Kettle Range Wolf Management Request

Washington wildlife managers are responding to Governor Jay Inslee’s request to do something different in a very problematic part of the state for wolves and cattle, terming it a “top priority.”

“The forest conditions and livestock operations in this particular landscape make it extremely challenging, and unfortunately, has resulted in repeated lethal removal actions. We all share the perspective that something has to change to reduce the loss of both wolves and livestock in this area. WDFW believes this is consistent with the Governor’s request,” a statement sent out this afternoon to Northwest Sportsman reads.

WDFW’S 2018 WOLF MAP SHOWS WHERE WASHINGTON’S 27 KNOWN PACKS ROAMED AT THE END OF LAST YEAR. THE O.P.T. WOLVES OF NORTHEAST WASHINGTON HAVE SINCE BEEN REMOVED FOR LIVESTOCK DEPREDATIONS, AND HAVE LED TO A REQUEST FROM THE GOVERNOR TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT FOR FUTURE WOLF-LIVESTOCK CONFLICTS IN THE KETTLE RANGE. (WDFW)

It follows on Inslee’s letter to Director Kelly Susewind last night asking the state agency to “make changes in the gray wolf recovery program to further increase the reliance on non-lethal methods, and to significantly reduce the need for lethal removal of this species.”

Wolves roaming northern Ferry County’s Kettle Range were taken out by WDFW in 2016, 2018 and again this summer in response to chronic depredations on cattle mostly owned by a single ranch, the Diamond M, and largely grazing on federal forest allotments.

The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back may have been piled on in mid-July, about a month before WDFW killed the last four of the eight members of the Old Profanity Territory Pack right before a court date.

The state operates under an agreed-to protocol where producers need to have been using a set number of livestock-wolf conflict avoidance measures and suffer either three wolf attacks in 30 days or four in 10 months before lethal removal is considered.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

Even as WDFW’s gray wolf email blasts chronicled preventative steps as well as the evidence the OPTs were responsible for nearly 30 attacks stretching back to last year, a mid-July update also states, “WDFW-contracted range riders did not resume riding because the livestock producer prefers that contracted range riders not work with the producer’s cattle at this time.”

Range riders are not mentioned in subsequent updates.

Just as some cowboys are all hat, certainly not all range riders are created equal, and it’s an operator’s prerogative whether to use those offered.

But pressure has also been growing on the Democratic governor running for a third term from outside as well as inside the state to do something different in this thick, steep, half-burnt neck of the woods.

Some will see Inslee’s move as inserting himself and outside opinions about wildlife into state management, as well as meddling in affairs outside his depth.

“Perhaps Gov. Inslee, whose ideas about climate change propelled his presidential campaign into a political black hole, will have more luck dazzling voters with his wolf management expertise,” shot longtime Washington hunter and gun writer Dave Workman.

Scott Nielsen of the Cattle Producers of Washington said he’d like to see Inslee more worried about his herd, per a Capital Press story out today.

Indeed, it will be very interesting to see what better ideas the governor and his staff can come up with for better managing this cauldron.

GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE GIVES HIS 2019 STATE OF THE STATE SPEECH EARLIER THIS YEAR. (GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

Some appear to want an all-but-hands-off wolf management approach, with the Center For Biological Diversity trumpeting about Inslee’s request for a new tack and his appreciation for “these ecologically essential and wondrous animals.”

It will also be interesting to see if CBD gets involved more closely going forward.

Instate wolf advocates say they are glad Inslee weighed in.

Conservation Northwest put out a statement this morning stating they agree “that more work is needed in certain areas, including northeast Washington’s Kettle River Mountain Range. We’re committed to collaborating with agency staff, ranchers, biologists and others to continue moving towards the goal of long-term recovery and public acceptance of wolves alongside thriving local communities.”

Love them, loath them or just wish this never-ending cow-lupus drama would end already, ultimately in a state like Washington, wolves are going to be around for a very long time, and there are other aspects of their management that have gone overlooked for far too long and deserve time too, namely ungulate impacts and possible hunting permits down the road.

Whether this new push from the governor helps or hurts that remains to be seen as well.

As it stands, roughly 90 percent of the state’s 27 known packs aren’t causing any issues with livestock — this grazing season anyway — according to WDFW.

But with conflict in the Kettles “greatly impacting many of our communities, including ranching communities, environmental communities,” and itself, WDFW said it will “continue working with the Wolf Advisory Group and stakeholders on minimizing conflict proactively with lethal removal as a last resort.”

“We are also engaging with the local community, the US Forest Service, and others to seek new solutions for this challenging landscape,” WDFW stated.

Meanwhile, there are two ongoing wolf removal authorizations in Eastern Washington that have not been placed on hold because of the governor’s letter.

“The Togo authorization still stands, although we haven’t been actively working to remove wolves from that pack in several weeks as the right opportunity — conducive weather, employee schedules, helicopter scheduling, etc. — hasn’t been available,” said a spokeswoman.

The Togo operation began not long after the nearby OPT removals, but in sharp contrast, no pack members have been killed.

“The Grouse Flats authorization still stands as well,” the spokeswoman added.

It’s the first against a pack in all of Southeast Washington since wolves began moving back into the neighborhood.