WDFW is trying to keep mum today about how exactly it hunted wolves up in the Wedge this week, declining to discuss who or how many sharpshooters it had afield and other operational details that resulted in one of the two targeted predators being killed, but says removing members of the livestock-attacking pack there was the “right decision” as Northeast Washington in particular becomes home to more and more wolves.
“We’ve wrapped it up for now,” said Nate Pamplin, in charge of WDFW’s Wildlife Program, which oversees day to day wolf management in Washington, shortly after noon. “We’ll monitor the situation, regroup and reevaluate our next steps.”
Meanwhile, the rancher whose herd has born the brunt of this summer’s attacks was pleased with yesterday’s killing of a nonbreeding female wolf on his grazing allotment in northern Stevens County, but says that while he followed procedure and reported the calf attack to a game warden four and a half days before the removal, if any more dead or injured cattle show up, he’ll also call in the sheriff.
Bill McIrvin has had one calf killed by wolves, another six calves and cows injured and is missing at least two other animals this summer alone. He’s also operating in an area where “higher-than normal” calf losses were reported coming out of last fall’s roundup, and this winter a nearby ranch had wolves in its calving pen. Coming back into cell phone range last night, he spoke with our Jeff Holmes about what led to Washington’s first legal killing of a wolf under the statewide management plan.
THE LATEST INCIDENT BEGAN WHEN 36 cows and calves were run out of the Colville National Forest last week back down to private property. McIrvin and his hands examined the herd for injuries, didn’t find any, so they loaded the animals back up and returned them to the range.
That’s when trouble began.
A calf turned up this past Thursday with laceration and bite marks that weren’t immediately identified by a fish and wildlife officer during examinations late that night and Friday morning as having come from a wolf or wolves.
McIrvin, however, felt the wounds matched those of prior attacks, reports Holmes.
It was at that point that the option of lethal removal was first considered, according to Pamplin.
But a final determination that the calf was attacked by a wolf didn’t come until sometime Monday afternoon, after further review of the injuries.
Under the state’s wolf plan, wolves that repeatedly attack livestock can be lethally removed as long as preventative measures have been taken.
In a not unexpected but somewhat dangerous move given its wolf work as well as other projects in the region with ranchers and foresters, Conservation Northwest has challenged assertions that McIrvin tried to prevent conflicts in the area.
Asked about that, Pamplin responded, “We couldn’t have gone to lethal removal without considering the context of this pack within the Eastern Washington recovery region plus steps that have been taken in the Wedge this year.”
Those include capturing and collaring the alpha male with a GPS device, ear-tagging a pup, frequent checkups on the cattle by five ranch hands and a USDA Wildlife Services staffer tasked to the Wedge, that wild, extremely brushy triangular chunk of country between the Columbia and Kettle Rivers and Canadian border that has until now otherwise been completely off the radar of Evergreen State residents save for a few hunters and anglers who sneak off to fish Big Sheep Creek.
During a recent ride in those mountains, among the most predator rich in Washington with wolves, cougars, black bears, grizzly bears and wolverines, McIrvin told Holmes he found cracked calf bones and a stink that indicated to him that that particular animal had died this year.
Incensed with the continuing pattern of wolf attacks — the ranch saw the first confirmed wolf attack in modern history, 2007’s killing of two calves — and WDFW’s slow confirmation of a wolf attack in the face of what he felt was sure evidence, Holmes says McIrvin told him that “At this point we don’t have a whole lot of faith in WDFW so we’re going to call in the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office from now on as well.”
A small number of deputies from there attended a WDFW training session where they were taught by wolf expert Carter Niemeyer to recognize signatures of a wolf attack. Among other markers, wolves typically grab the flesh behind the forelegs where other predators have different strategies for bringing down prey.
WDFW makes final determination on wolf attacks, and undoubtedly there will be disagreements as in Wallowa County where the sheriff and ODFW biologists sometimes reach differing shades of conclusions that can also affect whether a rancher is compensated for a lost animal or not.
When Holmes spoke to him last night, McIrvin was unaware about the news that WDFW’s gunner had killed the wolf, but responded with, “Well, that’s good” and that it was a “good sign.”
For those keeping score, it’s now 1,670 to 1,682 — that is, for every cow determined to have been killed by a wolf in the Northern Rockies between 1987 and 2011 (and in Washington this summer), one wolf has been taken out.
BEING A HUNTING BLOG AND MAGAZINE rather than a depredation daily, I wanted to learn more about the actual armed search for Canis lupus, but it’s unclear at this point if it went on on foot, horseback, helicopter, over bait, with calls or at a rendezvous site. Surely the GPS collar on the alpha male provided clues about the pack’s whereabouts — WDFW was targeting animals other than the alphas and pups — and we can assume that that dead wolf will have its DNA sampled.
WDFW’s Nate Pamplin also refused to discuss who the wolf hunter was.
Northwest Sportsman has confirmed a blog post about which subdepartment of the state that that employee belongs to, but to protect he and fellow staffers from so-called “wolf zealots” who might inadvisably harass or even assault them, that information will not be posted here.
Recall the Idaho hunter who shot the very first wolf during that state’s 2009 hunt and the hate he had to endure, much of which he posted on a blog.
As one WDFW spokesman noted, it’s an emotionally charged issue because wolves are still a rare and endangered species in large parts of the state, though the management and recovery plan allows for removals in circumstances like what’s occurred this week, and they’ve become powerful, powerful totems and tools throughout the West since the mid-1990s reintroductions.
In a sense, it’s very apt that this incident occurred in the Wedge as wolves are a hugely divisive issue that’s now fully involved in Washington.
While Pamplin and perhaps nobody else knows exactly how many wolves are in the area, his best guess is at least four adults, based on trail cam footage from last winter, plus at least one pup — and likely more. Breeding pairs typically have four to six pups per litter, about half of which die annually. During the early years of recolonization, those in Northwestern Montana and North Idaho averaged 5.3.
Northeast Washington is now home to at least six packs and 28 wolves, the latter being a figure that represents alphas, known pups and two wolves captured on the Colville Reservation alone and not 2011’s or previous years’ litters. Certainly there are many more when you include those animals, the suspected but unconfirmed Ruby Creek and Boulder Creek packs and loners similar to OR7 and the Teanaway Pack yearling that went to BC this spring.
Asked how the shooter could tell the difference between a breeding and nonbreeding animal, Pamplin pointed to body language, behavior, the trail footage and the collar on the male.
He would not disclose the dead animal’s weight.
He stood firm on WDFW’s “difficult job.”
“Removing an animal in this situation was a difficult decision, but it was the right decision. I’m pleased with how the operation was performed. It was not a decision that was reached lightly,” Pamplin said.
FOR THE MOMENT, THE AGENCY IS TRYING to get past the initial burst of attention its management activities have attracted.
It posted the news to Facebook today, and as ever that immediately sparked a range of comments on many facets of the actual wolf debate, and then some.
The take-home messages for both fringes — I’m increasingly sure the center and some hunters don’t give, as Rich Landers wrote, a damn — are these:
Anti-wolfers: If anything, this incident shows that WDFW is fully engaged in wolf management — and it’s about time. Since passage of the management plan last December, it’s hired trappers and techs to do nothing but work on wolves. That’s resulted in a lot more wolf info out there, making it easier to get newsy bits out of WDFW, as a search of this blog will show. The agency’s wolf managers are also in the field, sometimes on a daily basis, and even the director himself, Phil Anderson, paid a visit to McIrvin’s Diamond M after mid-July’s attacks. Northwest Sportsman has also been briefed on what the agency will do in regards to wolf-ungulate management. If Montana, Idaho and Wyoming as a whole are any indication, there will be plenty.
Pro-wolfies: This week’s wolf killing might have mattered three or four years ago when the state’s population was much smaller, but today it matters little in the grand scheme of recovery. It was bound to happen sooner or later — the state clearly is supporting a growing population, one that will continue to disperse into the Cascades, Okanogan Highlands, Selkirks and elsewhere there are cattle. It appears that WDFW acted according to its management plan, and while it’s unclear whether the dead wolf was actually in on any of the attacks, taking out members of offending packs is just part of the price to be paid for the greater goal of wolves across the state — ranching is as much a part of the fabric of Washington as its native creatures, including, yes, the wolf. If Montana, Idaho and Wyoming as a whole are any indication, there will be plenty.
As this week’s lesson shows, you ain’t gonna have lots of wolves without lots of game.
A TIMELINE OF EVENTS
2007: Calf depredation northernmost Stevens County on the Diamond M Ranch.
Fall 2011: Diamond M reports fewer cattle than expected at roundup.
Winter 2012: Wedge rancher given caught-in-the-act/shoot-to-kill permit after wolf tracks are found in his calving pen; http://nwsportsmanmag.com/2012/06/22/washington-wolf-news-late-june-edition/
March 21, 2012: WDFW posts videos of three adult-sized wolves in the Wedge; http://nwsportsmanmag.com/2012/03/21/washington-may-have-10-wolf-packs/
May 2012: Midmonth trapping efforts here fail; http://nwsportsmanmag.com/2012/05/15/oregon-washington-wolf-update/
Late May 2012: Two wolves are photographed in area; http://nwsportsmanmag.com/2012/06/13/colville-reservation-wolves-are-states-6th-confirmed-pack/
July 12: Managers head for the Wedge to investigate an attack on Diamond M’s grazing allotment; http://nwsportsmanmag.com/2012/07/12/wa-wolf-managers-head-to-the-wedge-to-check-on-livestock-depredation/
July 13: After confirming wolves killed one calf and injured a cow and a calf, WDFW offers McIrvin a caught-in-the-act permit and says the area and its wolves are its number one priority; http://nwsportsmanmag.com/2012/07/13/wolves-cougar-implicated-in-attack-on-stevens-co-calves/
July 16: WDFW trapper Paul Frame captures and collars an adult male believed to be the pack’s alpha, as well as a pup, officially confirming the pack; http://nwsportsmanmag.com/2012/07/16/wdfw-traps-2-wolves-in-new-wedge-pack-states-8th/
July 24: A WDFW manager says if there’s another wolf depredation in the Wedge, the agency will move to lethal removal; http://nwsportsmanmag.com/2012/07/24/wedge-wolves-on-a-tight-leash/
Aug. 6: Word emerges that there’s been another attack; http://nwsportsmanmag.com/2012/08/06/with-another-wolf-attack-in-wedge-now-wdfw-considers-lethal-removal-other-options/
Aug. 7: After confirming a calf was injured by a wolf or wolves, WDFW announces its killed one and is hunting for another; http://nwsportsmanmag.com/2012/08/07/wdfw-kills-wolf-aims-to-kill-another-to-deal-with-cattle-depredation/
Aug. 8: Hunt ends without a second wolf being removed; WDFW reconsidering its options.