Wolf killed after repeated attacks on livestock

Aug 10, 2012

Washington ranchers have now joined Idaho and Montana in their quest to prove that the wolf recovery plan has been more than successful and is now rapidly putting cattle herds in danger.

Washington state wildlife managers last week killed a wolf from a pack that had repeatedly preyed on livestock in a remote area of northeast Washington for the past five years.

Acting under the terms of the state’s 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) took lethal action after a series of wolf attacks on the Diamond M herd, whose owners graze about 400 head of cattle in an area known as the Wedge near the Canadian border. The attacks left one calf dead, five cows or calves injured and at least two missing since mid-July.

The wolf removed was identified as a non-breeding female member of the Wedge Pack. It was shot last Tuesday morning by department staff in the area where an attack on livestock had occurred in July. Department staff planned to re main in the area in an attempt to remove a second wolf.

WDFW Director Phil Anderson said the department had tried a variety of non-lethal efforts to protect livestock from attacks by the Wedge Pack. Efforts included using specialized electric fencing to protect calves this spring, attaching a radio collar to the pack’s alpha male, and maintaining a regular human presence in the area.

In addition, the rancher employs five cowboys to frequently check on the herd, which consists of 210 cow/calf pairs.

“These ranchers live and work in an area with the highest concentration of wolves in the state,” said Anderson, who had visited the Diamond M ranch following wolf attacks on livestock in July. “The wolf plan is designed to support the recovery of wolves, but it also outlines specific strategies to minimize livestock losses.”

The plan, approved last December by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission after five years of public involvement, specifically authorizes WD- FW to take lethal measures to address repeated attacks on livestock. The plan states that when lethal removal is necessary, one or two wolves may be removed initially.

Several wolf-related incidents have been documented in the range of the Wedge Pack, including:

In 2007, wolves killed two calves from the Diamond M herd.

Since then, livestock operators have reported wolf presence in the area and higher than normal calf losses.

Earlier this year, WDFW documented wolf activity around a calving operation.

In July, wolves killed one calf and injured a cow and another calf. Later, two other injured calves were found and confirmed to have been attacked by wolves. The rancher also observed two additional injured calves but was not able to capture them.

Last week, a calf was found with a laceration and bite mark that wildlife managers determined were the result of a wolf attack.

“Our goal in taking action was to reduce the size of the pack and break the pattern of predation,” said Nate Pamplin, assistant WDFW wildlife director. “We can’t guarantee that [the] action will prevent future attacks by this pack, but we have clear indications that nonlethal actions alone are unlikely to reduce predation on livestock.”

Pamplin said the WDFW staff would remain in the area in an attempt to remove a second wolf. He said the department would re-evaluate its options following the removal of the wolf.

Gray wolves are classified as “endangered” under Washington state law, but are no longer protected in the eastern third of the state under the federal Endangered Species Act. The state’s wolf plan sets population recovery objectives and outlines methods for minimizing wolf-livestock conflicts.

As of July, wildlife biologists had confirmed eight wolf packs within the state and suspect there are four additional packs based on public reports and observed tracks. The number of confirmed packs represents an increase from two in 2010, indicating that the wolf population is rebounding, which also increases the potential for wolf-livestock conflict.

“Parts of northeast Washington are extremely rugged and remote, and the region borders areas of Idaho and Canada that already support large numbers of wolves, so it’s not surprising that wolves have re-established themselves more quickly here than in other parts of the state,” Anderson said.

The Wedge Pack was considered the eighth confirmed pack in the state in July. If that number grows to 15, and adult pairs continue to mate in three designated areas of the state for three consecutive years, the wolf will be removed from the Washington State Endangered Species List, according to reports.

The growing conflict and lack of action has some ranchers taking their own action, and paying the consequences.

In April, Twisp rancher Tom White and his wife pleaded guilty to federal felony charges of killing and conspiring to export the pelt of a protected species.

White’s father, William, had previously pleaded guilty to charges involving the killing of two wolves.

The three face state charges in connection with the killings that, according to biologists, set back what is called the Lookout Mountain Pack that was discovered in the Okanogan Valley in 2008.

Some fellow ranchers in the region have defended the Whites’ right to protect the herd, but prosecutors say the Whites failed to demonstrate any threat to their livestock.

In Montana and Idaho, wolves have been removed from the endangered species list and now wolf management plans are in place, including scheduled hunting seasons, to keep the population in check.

Despite the management plan and hunting season, hunters killed only 166 wolves during Montana’s wolf season last year, falling short of the state’s goal to kill 220 wolves. According to reports, the wolf population increased in 2011 by 15 percent to more than 650 wolves in 130 verified packs. Montana is trying to get the wolf numbers down to 425-500.

Idaho’s regular 2011-2012 wolf hunting seasons ended June 30, but were followed immediately by the 2012- 2013 private land hunts which opened July 1 in the Panhandle wolf management zone. Wolf hunting opens in the rest of the state on Aug. 30 followed by trapping on Nov. 15.

In 2011, Idaho wolf hunters and trappers killed 379 wolves. By the end of last year, Idaho was home to 101 wolf packs and at least 746 wolves, not counting the 24 boundary packs the state shares with Montana, Wyoming and Washington.

According to reports, during 2011, 71 cattle, 121 sheep, three horses, six dogs and two domestic bison were confirmed wolf kills in Idaho. Another 47 animals were listed as probable wolf kills. And that doesn’t include the devastation to the state’s elk herds.

Washington appears to be headed in the same direction on the wolf destruction path and the hunting and trapping seasons don’t appear to be anywhere in the state’s near future. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor