After nearly five months without a depredation in Washington, wolves struck earlier this week in the Blue Mountains, killing a newborn calf.
Word of the incident came out during this morning’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting as Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane briefed fellow members about what happened at yesterday’s wolf subcommittee meeting.
The depredation was linked by WDFW to the Grouse Flats Pack, which roams southern Garfield and Asotin Counties as well as into Oregon.
It occurred on private land and the calf was two days old.
Grouse Flats wolves killed three calves last summer and injured a cow on Sept. 12, which was the last confirmed attack by any pack in Washington, according to WDFW’s last monthly wolf report.
In response, agency sharpshooters killed a female member of the pack in late September, likely its breeding female.
While wolves are more likely to attack livestock during the summer grazing season on public land, at least in Washington so far, the incident illustrated that vigilance is required in winter too.
“It is a problem year-round, and that’s kind of a reminder we take from that report,” Commissioner Thorburn said.
With calving season now beginning, crews are working in this part of the Blues to prevent further conflicts.
“Staff in the Grouse Flats area devoted a significant amount of time this week making sure non-lethal deterrents were in place in the area of the depredation to deter more incidents,” said Staci Lehman, a WDFW spokeswoman in Spokane.
Expect to learn more about the incident and next steps when the agency issues a wolf update, most likely early next week.
Last fall Governor Jay Inslee waded into wolf management elsewhere in Eastern Washington, telling WDFW 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 the Kettle Range.
“The range riders, the ranchers that are dealing with that have expressed a lot of frustration that we’ve embraced nonlethal preventative techniques. It’s hard to do when you have no idea where the wolves are,” said prime sponsor Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda). “You can’t get in between the wolves and the livestock, so I think this will be an important tool in improving our preventative actions on the ground.”
His initial bill would have required WDFW to collar two wolves in packs attacking livestock, but was amended to make it a priority and make multiple attempts to catch them.
State trappers annually capture and collar a handful of wolves in various packs, and while that GPS data is very useful for closely tracking the animals, sometimes they disperse or end up being shot in state operations. Trying to trap them too often can also lead to too-wary wolves.
Rep. Debra Lekanof (D-Bow) was among legislators from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the state who gave Kretz’s bill a thumbs up.
She also took a moment to link it with WDFW’s chronic funding issues.
“In order for WDFW to be able to really retain the work that they’re doing to protect prey and predator, I think we really need to take into consideration this step, but fully fund that agency to make sure that we can better protect our resources, we can better protect our communities,” Lekanof said.