Cougars bagged another Washington wolf, this one a member of the border-straddling Grouse Flats Pack of Asotin County.
WDFW reports the wild canid was found dead in Oregon last month and subsequent investigation by ODFW staffers determined it had been killed by a big cat.
Even as the Grouse Flats Pack dens in Washington and is thus counted in WDFW’s rather than ODFW’s annual wolf tally, with this mortality occurring in Oregon, the animal’s death will appear in that state’s 2022’s annual wolf report.
However, it also marks a continuation of an unusual trend which has seen more Washington wolves killed by cougars than other states. In October, WDFW reported there had been at least four GPS-collared wolves killed by cougars in the last nine years, a rate higher than seen in the Northern Rockies over a data set twice as long, and it’s likely there are other instances involved uncollared wolves.
In that October blog, WDFW noted that wolves and cougars are direct competitors for deer, elk and moose and their habitats largely overlap. Lions aren’t so much hunting down wolves as they are “competing with them for food,” and their strategy is similar to a house cat sneaking up on a mouse, with the long-tailed predators “known for striking in areas where slopes, trees, boulders, or other cover gives them an advantage.” Evidence from one scene in Northeast Washington shows a “collared wolf appears to have been surprised [by a cougar] on a logging road … When a cougar successfully ambushes a wolf traveling alone, the fight can be very short, with the cat finishing it with a quick bite to the head.”
Today’s reporting by WDFW of the Southeast Washington wolf dying by the fangs of a cougar appeared to raise suspicions on social media about to what end the information was being pushed out.
“When we report causes of deaths of wolves in our monthly update, we are reporting the results of necropsies performed by our staff or other professional agency staff,” stated spokeswoman Staci Lehman in Spokane, who deals with wolf-related communications. “This is simply reporting documentation of known mortalities and cause of death if it can be determined—something we do for all known wolf mortalities regardless of cause. Occasionally I will spot a piece of info in one of the updates, such as the cougars killing wolves information, and think it’s really interesting and work with the wolf team to make it into a stand-alone article. Sharing information and educating is the only motive there; nothing beyond that.”
The Grouse Flats Pack death was one of five reported in the agency’s monthly wolf report for November, with wolf-on-wolf violence accounting for one of that quintet.
“A wolf was legally harvested in the Beaver Creek territory by a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in November.
A wolf from the Carpenter Ridge pack was found dead in November. The incident is under investigation.
A wolf from the Columbia pack was found dead in November. The wolf was determined to have been killed by other wolves.
A wolf from the Leadpoint pack was found dead in November. The incident is under investigation.”
The Carpenter Ridge and Leadpoint mortalities occurred in the same quadrant of the state where six wolves were found dead last winter after ingesting poison. WDFW reports that that investigation is ongoing and tips should be sent to game wardens’ confidential poaching hotline, 877-933-9847, or texted to 84741.
As for the harvest of the Beaver Creek wolf, that’s at least the second pack member taken this year by tribal hunters. (The legal, regulated tribal harvest of wolves in the federally delisted portion of Eastern Washington raised a lonely howl of objection from a Western predator ecologist last summer.)
All told, WDFW says it has documented 26 wolf mortalities through the first 11 months of 2022, a mix of poaching, agency lethal removal, tribal hunting and natural deaths – a Skookum Pack female died in March at the very advanced age for a wolf of 13 – and 18 more than at the same time last year.
In other notable wolf news from November’s report, WDFW indicates that two GPS-collared wolves have dispersed from their packs, with one of course going the exact opposite way needed to possibly help eventually reach state delisting goals.
Where there wasn’t much indication about the direction of travel of a Lookout wolf from its Twisp-area territory, a Teanaway animal “moved to the Naneum area over the summer and recently dispersed over toward the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River. It then turned around and headed back to the Naneum for a couple of days and then dispersed across the Columbia Basin and up toward Northeast Washington.”
Both dispersers will continue to be monitored, WDFW states; the leaving of the Lookout wolf left the pack sans any GPS-collared members.
December is also when state biologists will be out performing the annual wolf count.
And there were no reported livestock depredations in November. The monthly report states that the Wolf Advisory Group advised Director Susewind that he should get various state agencies together to talk about cattle carcass removals, to which he agreed, and it detailed researchers’ work to evaluate the effectiveness of range riding in terms or reducing wolf-livestock conflict.