WDFW killed the alpha male of the Wedge Pack this morning, bringing to six the number of wolves it’s lethally removed in northern Stevens County this week, including the breeding female, and says the operation has now concluded.
The removals appear to have gone according to plan. WDFW had wanted to use the GPS-collared male to lead it to other pack members, taking out those first, and then it at the end.
Necropsies will be performed on the carcasses, but Game Division manager Dave Ware said that most of the wolves killed appeared to be adults.
“Being able to count eight animals — the nonbreeding female, the pup, the six — we’re fairly confident that the majority are dead and that our objective of disrupting the pack from eating livestock has been achieved,” he said.
He acknowledges there could be a wolf or two still in the area, and WDFW will monitor for any presence and assess the situation as needed.
SOME WILL CHEER this week’s events loudly; others will cry.
Some will boycott the state; some will say, show me the bodies.
Some will ask how much it cost taxpayers to protect cattle grazing on public land; others will ask why WDFW didn’t use a chopper sooner.
For the man in the middle, it was a “very difficult decision, both personally and professionally” to order the elimination of the pack — as well as task his staffers to carry it out.
“But it was necessary to reset the stage for sustainable wolf recovery in this region,” said WDFW director Phil Anderson in a press release. “Now we will refocus our attention on working with livestock operators and conservation groups to aggressively promote the use of non-lethal tactics to avoid wolf-livestock conflict.”
It is an oxymoron to some, but under the state’s wolf plan, killing individual wolves or problem packs is allowed and a necessary part of their recovery. In fact, the document is as much about managing wolves as it is people and social tolerances — Washington is not a tabula rasa that Canis lupus is meant to spread across without consideration of ranchers, hunters or others.
THE WEDGE PACK, variously estimated at eight to 11 animals going into summer, is blamed for the deaths and injuries of 17 cattle of the McIrvins’ Diamond M Ranch, on Colville National Forest lands and private pasture, and despite their, state and federal efforts to limit wolf-livestock conflicts.
The McIrvins reported an unusual number of missing cattle at roundup last fall, and a nearby operation had wolves in its calving pen this past spring. After turning their 300 cow-calf pairs out in mid-June, somewhat later than usual, depredations on Diamond M stock began in July with two injured and one dead calf. Another calf was killed by a cougar.
Those and subsequent attacks led to the lethal removal of a nonbreeding female in early August.
An ear-tagged pup also died that month of unknown causes; WDFW says it wasn’t from a bullet.
As August ground on and the attacks continued, the agency announced it would take out four wolves to stop the cycle of depredations — much to the indignation of wolf advocacy groups that argued the state’s case wasn’t solid because of disagreements about the evidence between WDFW staffers and outside federal experts.
Eventually it became clear to most that wolves were at fault.
And then, late last week, as the number of attacks grew to 15 while state marksmen failed to take out any of the wolves that were living largely on beef, WDFW told ranchers it was “all in” and that it would take out the pack using enhanced measures, including aerial gunning, a brutally efficient way of killing wolves.
That was partially predicated on support from not only the statewide cattlemen’s association but a key wolf advocacy group “to create the opportunity for wolves that are not habituated to preying on livestock to re-colonize the region.”
Very few details have emerged about any part of the state’s hunt or its marksmen, and that’s probably for the best. Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review reports that:
A Spokesman-Review photographer has been attempting to get photos of the effort, but was told by agency staff on the scene that they could not include him in the activities or make any official comments. (One) staffer did say that none of them enjoyed what they were doing, but that they were doing their job.
It’s probable that some more information, including costs, will come out at the Oct. 5 Fish & Wildlife Commission meeting where wolves are scheduled to take up four hours of the citizen oversight panel’s time.
NOW THAT IT APPEARS things have been “reset” in the Wedge, Anderson says he’s looking forward to working with ranchers on a “broad range” of nonlethal strategies, and his agency says it is urging livestock operators to join it on “cooperative, cost-sharing agreements … that specify non-lethal measures they will use to minimize wolf-livestock conflict.”
One such agreement can be seen further southeast in Stevens County. WDFW and Conservation Northwest are splitting the $20,000 bill for a range rider to keep the Smackout wolves out of rancher John Dawson’s cattle. The number of animals that come in at the end of the grazing season, their weights and any injuries they may or may not have will tell the tale of that pilot program’s success.
“Lethal removal will remain a wolf management option, but we will use it only as a last resort, after all reasonable non-lethal options are exhausted,” Anderson said.
Northwest Sportsman was unable to immediately reach rancher Bill McIrvin for comment, but Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest said, “Now that this sad episode is over, it’s time to refocus on the recovery part of the plan and on getting more ranchers to the level of respect, cooperation and quality stewardship that the situation calls for.”
Anderson said he respects the views of folks who’ve contacted the state on the issue, and there has been a huge outpouring of comment not only on Facebook but by phone.
WDFW’s phone system has been so jammed with calls in recent weeks that when you call the main number, it now simply picks up and says, “If you’re calling about the Wedge wolf pack, please press pound or the number sign now,” and when you press either it says it can’t take messages, but to send an email.
WDFW WILL CONTINUE to monitor the Wedge, that area of northern Stevens County between the Kettle and Columbia Rivers and border, for wolf activity.
“This is good wolf habitat, and we expect wolves to recolonize quickly,” said Ware, the Game Division manager.
The state’s reaction to any future wolf sightings here will depend on the timing, he said. The further from this week’s culling, the more likely it is that wolves would be dispersers from other areas taking up residence.
Indeed, there are now six confirmed packs, two suspected ones , an apparent pack and perhaps another elsewhere in Northeast Washington.
WDFW has teams monitoring those wolves and looking for other packs in the Okanogan, Chelan and Kittitas Counties, and the Blue Mountains.
Ware indicates that WDFW has been surprised by how quickly the state’s wolf population has expanded, partially a function of increased monitoring but also the animals’ fecundity.
Rich Landers reports that at least one wildlife biologist has been so busy on wolves this summer he hasn’t had a chance to survey big game herds.
Editor’s note: For much more on Washington wolves, see our Wolf News section.