WA kills three wolves to stop depredations
by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife
September 30, 2012
Washington Wolf Packs: Wedge
September 26, 2012
OLYMPIA – Three wolves from the Wedge Pack in Northeast Washington were killed today as the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) continued its effort to put a stop to persistent attacks on livestock by eliminating the pack.
Since July, Wedge Pack wolves are believed to have killed or injured at least 17 cows and calves from the herd of the Diamond M Ranch of northern Stevens County.
Department Director Phil Anderson said a WDFW marksman shot the wolves from a helicopter at about 8 a.m. The wolves were located about seven miles south of the Canadian border in the same area where two other wolves from the Wedge Pack were killed yesterday.
Anderson said a department wildlife veterinarian would perform necropsies on all five of the wolves killed this week.
For more information see the Wedge Pack Lethal Removal Actions FAQ
September 25, 2012
Two wolves from Wedge Pack killed in Northeast Washington
OLYMPIA – A marksman with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) killed two wolves in Northeast Washington today as part of an effort to eliminate a pack that has repeatedly preyed on livestock in a remote grazing area near the Canadian border.
WDFW Director Phil Anderson said teams of marksmen and wildlife biologists returned to an area known as the Wedge late last week, but had not killed any wolves after several days of around-the-clock activity. Beginning Monday, the department called in a helicopter to aid the effort, and an airborne marksman shot the two wolves early Tuesday afternoon, about seven miles south of the Canadian border.
Anderson had directed the pack’s removal last week in response to the wolves’ escalating pattern of predation on the livestock herd of the Diamond M Ranch of Stevens County. Since July, wolves are believed to have killed or injured at least 17 of the herd’s calves and cows, despite non-lethal efforts to minimize wolf conflict by the rancher and department staff.
The rate of attacks on Diamond M livestock increased even after the department killed a non-breeding member of the pack on August 7. Anderson said the wolves killed Tuesday were among six that were spotted about seven miles southeast of the ranch on the Diamond M grazing allotment. Another wolf was seen Tuesday morning at the Diamond M’s private livestock pasture.
"We decided to eliminate the Wedge Pack only after non-lethal measures were unsuccessful, and after the removal of one pack member failed to alter its behavior," Anderson said. "We are committed to the recovery and sustainability of the gray wolf in Washington, and its numbers are increasing rapidly, but recovery won’t succeed if ranchers’ livelihoods are threatened by persistent wolf attacks on livestock."
The Wedge Pack is one of eight confirmed and four suspected packs in the state, most of which are in Pend Oreille, Stevens, and Ferry counties.
Anderson said a department wildlife veterinarian would perform necropsies on the wolves later this week. He said the animals’ hides and skulls eventually would be used for educational purposes.
For more information see the Wedge Pack Lethal Removal Actions FAQ
September 21, 2012
WDFW plans to eliminate wolf pack to end attacks on livestock and 'reset' stage for recovery in the Wedge
In response to ongoing attacks on livestock by a wolf pack in Northeast Washington that appears to be preying exclusively on cattle, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced it plans to eliminate the pack and lay a foundation for sustainable, long-term wolf recovery in the region. Learn more >>
September 19, 2012
Frequently asked questions:
The Wedge Wolf Pack Lethal Removal Actions
Why is the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) attempting to kill wolves in Northeast Washington?
The wolf pack in the "wedge" between the Columbia and Kettle rivers near the Canada border in Stevens County of northeast Washington has repeatedly preyed on livestock over the last three months and have not changed this pattern despite non-lethal efforts. After the sixth documented attack on cattle from the Diamond M Ranch by wolves in August, WDFW removed one wolf from the Wedge Pack in an effort to break the growing cycle of predation. As of September 17, 2012, a total of 15 confirmed or probable wolf-caused injuries or deaths to cattle were investigated. Western U.S. wolf experts agree this pack is now targeting livestock over natural wild prey. The department is prepared to remove additional wolves as necessary to protect area livestock.
What gives the department the authority to kill wolves? Aren’t gray wolves a protected species in Washington?
State law (RCW 77.12.240) permits WDFW to "authorize the killing of wildlife that is destroying or injuring property." That authority is also recognized by the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, adopted in 2011 by the Fish and Wildlife Commission after five years of development with a citizen advisory group and public comment.
The state’s wolf plan is designed to re-establish a sustainable wolf population in Washington, but also recognizes that chronic depredation by wolves on livestock could undermine that goal – particularly if landowners begin killing wolves because of inaction by the state. The plan includes criteria for wolf recovery along with specific guidelines for the use of lethal measures to prevent attacks on livestock.
State law lists gray wolves as endangered throughout Washington, but this status does not preclude WDFW from taking actions necessary to protect human life or property. Wolves are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of the state but are no longer federally listed in the eastern third, where the Wedge pack has been preying on cattle.
The Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was approved just last year. How can the department justify killing wolves so soon?
Wolf numbers have increased quickly, especially in northeast Washington. As of June, a total of eight packs had been confirmed in the state and four other packs were suspected. The Eastern Washington recovery area already has six confirmed packs – including the Wedge Pack – and three other suspected packs.
WDFW documented six incidents of wolf depredation before removing the first wolf from the Wedge Pack, with an estimated 8 to 11 members. Two more calves were attacked before the department decided to remove additional wolves to help break the cycle of predation. This incremental strategy, recommended by Washington’s own wolf plan, has sometimes proven effective in other states.
Were non-lethal measures used to control predation by the Wedge Pack?
Yes. Several non-lethal measures have been taken at the Diamond M Ranch – both by the rancher and by WDFW – to control predation by wolves on livestock. In spring, WDFW also helped to install wolf-repelling "fladry" on a wire fence at a neighboring ranch where wolf sightings were also reported. Specific actions taken at the Diamond M Ranch include:
Calving areas have been located away from the region to make calves less vulnerable to predation.
Cows with calves were released onto the range later in the spring when they are larger and more natural prey is available to wolves.
The rancher now employs five cowboys or "range riders" to help monitor the herd.
WDFW has worked with USDA Wildlife Services staff to patrol range in mid-summer with the goal of driving any wolves away from the herd.
Injured livestock have been moved off the range to recover, reducing the risk of attack.
The state’s wolf plan states that these pro-active measures offer a "partial alternative to lethal control," but that "lethal control of wolves may be necessary to resolve repeated wolf-livestock conflicts."
How does WDFW know that wolves from the Wedge Pack were involved in attacks on cattle?
The alpha male of the Wedge pack is equipped with a GPS and radio collar so that its movements, along with the rest of the pack, can be tracked daily. The cattle depredations investigated have occurred in the proximity of this pack’s territory.
WDFW biologists, enforcement officers and other specialists who have investigated these and other attacks have extensive training in determining the cause of livestock deaths. The department also consults with wolf experts from other agencies before making a final determination.
Experts both inside and outside the department agreed that attack marks on cattle from the Diamond M Ranch were left by wolves. These marks are distinct from those left by cougars, bears, coyotes and other predators. Tracks, scat and howling near the site also support that wolves were responsible for the attacks.
Does WDFW follow a specific process in determining whether wolves were involved in an attack?
Yes. The department follows standard procedures for investigating any report of livestock depredation, whether by wolves, cougars, bears or other predators. In the case of wolves, WDFW also employs additional strategies that have been used successfully by state and federal management agencies in other states.
The department’s process for investigating reports of wolf attacks on livestock includes the following steps:
When the department receives a report of a possible wolf depredation, at least one wildlife biologist and at least one enforcement field officer go to the scene to conduct an investigation. (Field officers have primary responsibility for responding to all reports of wildlife conflict.)
The team members collect evidence and information on-site and complete a preliminary report, typically within 24 hours.
The department convenes a review panel of predator experts from WDFW, U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including experts from other western states with wolves. WDFW investigators review the case, and panel members ask questions and offer additional comments.
The primary WDFW investigators consider all of the information to determine whether the injury or death was caused by a predator, which predator caused of the depredation, or if the cause was not identifiable.
As recommended in the wolf plan, WDFW is continuing to adapt this review process as necessary to improve decision-making about evolving management strategies.
Is WDFW concerned that killing wolves will set back the statewide recovery effort?
No. Wolves are very adaptable animals that can thrive in a variety of habitats so long as they have adequate food and are not exterminated through indiscriminant killing. Thousands of wolves have been killed in the Rocky Mountain states in recent decades, yet the species continues to recover in that region.
A population model developed by Washington State University in conjunction with Washington’s wolf plan found that removing wolves pose a very low risk to the statewide recovery objectives once pack numbers reach numbers currently documented in eastern Washington. The real danger to recovery is if people lose confidence in WDFW’s ability to manage wolves and take matters into their own hands.
How does WDFW decide when to take lethal action against wolves?
The state’s wolf plan describes lethal control as a necessary tool for reducing wolf depredation on livestock, but describes how and when it is appropriate. As stated on page 88 of the plan:
"If it is determined that lethal removal is necessary, it will likely be used incrementally, as has been done in other states, with one or two offending animals removed initially. If depredations continue, additional animals may be removed."
Consistent with this approach, WDFW removed one wolf in August and announced its intention to continue incrementally as necessary to protect livestock. At each step, the department considers the following factors outlined in the plan:
Pack size: Prior to taking lethal action, department estimated the size of the Wedge Pack at eight to 11 wolves – enough to sustain the loss of some animals. That estimate was based on a photo of four adults taken in late winter; the capture and release of the alpha male (radio-collared) and a pup (ear tagged) in July; observations and howling heard by WDFW wolf biologists from multiple adults and "young of the year."
Conflict history: The Wedge Pack attacked numerous cattle before WDFW took lethal action in an attempt to stop the growing cycle of depredation. Those attacks killed a calf in 2007; injured a cow and calf July 11; killed a calf July 12, injured two others July 14; injured a calf August 2; injured a calf August 14; and killed a calf August 16. Attacks have continued into September resulting in a total of 14 dead or injured cattle as of September 18.
Natural prey: At the time this year’s attacks occurred, white-tailed deer were abundant, moose relatively common and elk present in lower numbers. Livestock were not the only option for the pack.
Season: The Diamond M’s cattle are scheduled to be on the range until October, leaving them exposed to predation for months after the rash of attacks in the summer of 2012.
Age and class of livestock: Most of the cattle were cow-calf combinations; most of the fatalities were calves, although cows were also attacked.
Use of non-lethal tools: Area ranchers employed a variety of non-lethal measures (see earlier question-answer) – with and without the department’s help before WDFW decided lethal measures were warranted.
Potential for future losses: WDFW determined future losses were likely, based on conflict history, the increasing frequency of attacks, and the fact that multiple attacks on livestock occurred after the first wolf was killed.
It appears that the attacks on cattle occurred on National Forest lands. Why would WDFW kill wolves that live on public land?
WDFW has a responsibility to control wolves regardless of where they may roam inside the state’s borders. This responsibility also extends to cougars, bears and other animals that can pose a risk to public safety and private property.
September 4, 2012
State wildlife managers said today they are resuming their effort to lethally remove up to four wolves from a pack that has repeatedly preyed on livestock in the Wedge region of Northeast Washington.
The most recent confirmed attacks on livestock occurred last week, when wolves from the Wedge pack injured two calves from the Diamond M ranch in northern Stevens County. Those depredations brought to 10 the number of injured and dead livestock from the Diamond M herd since July. The latest investigation was conducted by staff from the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office, and the results were reviewed and confirmed by independent wildlife biologists.
The two calves were removed from the range on August 30, one day after WDFW Director Phil Anderson temporarily suspended a 12-day effort to kill wolves from the pack to break its pattern of predation. Department staff killed a non-breeding member of the pack on August 7 but did not kill any wolves between August 18 and 29.
WDFW staff will return on Wednesday morning, Sept. 5, to the remote Wedge region, which is located just south of the Canadian border and between the Columbia and Kettle rivers.
WDFW management efforts reflect the provisions of the state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, adopted in December 2011 by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. The plan’s primary goal is to restore the wolf population in Washington, but it authorizes lethal removal of wolves that repeatedly attack livestock when:
There is documentation that livestock have clearly been killed by wolves;
Non-lethal means have failed to resolve the wolf-livestock conflict;
Livestock depredations are likely to continue; and
There is no evidence of intentional feeding or unnatural attraction by the livestock owner.
All of those criteria have been met in the case involving the Wedge pack wolves, Anderson said.
August 31, 2012
State Department of Fish and Wildlife investigators today confirmed that wolves had attacked two more calves in the Wedge region of Northeast Washington.
Department Director Phil Anderson said two injured calves from the Diamond M ranch in northern Stevens County were brought off the range on Thursday, Aug. 30. One calf was severely injured, while the other was less seriously wounded. Department staff and Stevens County Sheriff’s Office officials who examined the animals confirmed that wolves from the Wedge pack were responsible for the attacks, Anderson said.
The latest depredations brought to 10 the number of injured and dead livestock from the Diamond M herd since July.
August 29, 2012
State wildlife managers have temporarily suspended their on-site wolf management efforts in Northeast Washington and will re-evaluate next week the effort to remove more wolves from a pack that has persistently preyed on livestock in a remote area of Stevens County known as the Wedge.
Staff from the Department of Fish and Wildlife did not kill any wolves during a 12-day initiative that began August 18. WDFW staff went to the Wedge, an area bordered by the Columbia and Kettle rivers and the Canadian border, after wildlife managers confirmed that wolves from the Wedge pack were involved in the recent injury of one calf and the death of another in the grazing allotment area of the Diamond M ranch near the Canadian border. Those depredations, in mid-August, brought to eight the total number of injured or dead livestock from the Diamond M ranch since July.
WDFW staff killed a non-breeding member of the pack on August 7 in an effort to disrupt the pack’s behavior, but that action did not change the wolves’ pattern of attacking livestock.
Department Director Phil Anderson said today he ordered the latest effort suspended to give the team a break from field activities; to avoid conflicts with Labor Day recreationists; and to allow the department to evaluate what it has learned before deciding on next steps. Anderson said the department will continue to pursue management options to address repeated livestock depredation and may resume the effort to lethally remove wolves from the Wedge pack.
August 24, 2012
State wildlife specialists are continuing their on-site wolf management efforts in Northeast Washington, where they have spent the past week attempting to remove wolves from a pack that has persistently preyed on livestock in a remote area known as the Wedge.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) team did not kill any wolves during the week, but biologists reported finding the decomposed body of a young wolf within the Wedge pack’s range in northern Stevens County.
During a necropsy on Aug. 21, a WDFW wildlife veterinarian was unable to determine the cause of death because the carcass was too badly decomposed, said Nate Pamplin, director of the department’s wildlife program.
WDFW staff went to the Wedge, an area bordered by the Columbia and Kettle rivers and the Canadian border, last weekend after wildlife managers confirmed that wolves from the Wedge pack were involved in the recent injury of one calf and the death of another in the grazing allotment area of the Diamond M ranch near the Canadian border. The latest depredations brought to eight the total number of injured or dead livestock from the Diamond M ranch since July.
August 17, 2012
State wildlife managers today confirmed that wolves from the Wedge pack of northeast Washington were involved in the injury of one calf and the death of another this week in the grazing allotment area of the Diamond M ranch near the Canadian border. This brings to eight the total number of injured or dead livestock from the Diamond M ranch since July. Officials also said they were expanding their efforts to address the pack's persistent attacks on livestock.
Phil Anderson, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the department is sending a team of wildlife specialists to the remote area in an effort to attach a radio transmitter to an additional member of the pack. The pack's alpha male has already been fitted with a transmitter collar that alerts the department to the pack's movement.
In conjunction with the collaring effort, the department's team plans to kill up to four other wolves from the pack in an effort to disrupt its pattern of predation, reduce its food requirements, and potentially break it up permanently.
These efforts follow the department's action on August 7 to lethally remove a non-breeding female member of the pack.
The department is taking these actions under the terms of the state's 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. The department's primary goal under the plan is to ensure long-term recovery of the gray wolf population. However, the plan specifically authorizes the department to take lethal measures to address repeated attacks on livestock.
Wedge Pack Depredation Timeline
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
As of August 22, 2012
Note: The state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan discusses the management of wolf-livestock conflict on pages 85-89 and compensation issues on pages 90-94.
Sept 4, 2007 – Confirmed wolf depredation on one calf near the Diamond M Ranch
Ranch owner received compensation.
During 2011 – Several livestock operators report increased calf losses in the vicinity of Wedge Pack in Northeast Washington.
April 1-14, 2012 – Wolves stalked calving operation at a ranch adjacent to Diamond M.
Specialized fencing (fladry with electric fencing) was installed around neighboring ranch’s calving operation.
Department issued neighboring ranch a permit to kill a wolf "in the act" of attacking livestock if wolves penetrated an electric fence protecting his calving operation.
July 11, 2012 – One or more wolves injured a cow and calf belonging to the Diamond M Ranch
Diamond M carrying out operational plan to minimize wolf-livestock conflicts, including:
Placing calving areas in Southeast Washington away from wolf-occupied regions.
Releasing cow-calf pairs onto the range later in the spring (June 12) so the calves were older and bigger. This makes them less vulnerable to predation and delays their exposure until natural prey are more available.
Increasing to five the number of cowboys who go out daily to check on cattle.
Removing livestock with significant injuries from the range for treatment and rehabilitation.
July 12, 2012 – One or more wolves involved in killing a calf near the Diamond M Ranch.
July 14, 2012 – One or more wolves involved in injuring two calves belonging to the Diamond M Ranch.
Diamond M ranchers also observed two additional injured calves that they were not able to capture.
Wolves hazed away from Diamond M livestock by WDFW and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services staff in late July. (Efforts continued through early August.)
WDFW stated that if another incident occurred, it would initiate the removal of 1 to 2 wolves.
Department issued Diamond M Ranch owner a permit to kill a wolf "in the act" of attacking livestock.
August 2, 2012 – One or more wolves involved in injuring a calf near the Diamond M Ranch.
In addition, the remains of another carcass were also discovered, but the cause of death was indeterminate.
To reduce wolf-livestock interactions, WDFW lethally removed one non-breeding female from the Wedge pack and shared wolf pack location information with Diamond M Ranch.
WDFW stated if wolf attacks on livestock continue, the Department will employ strategies to break up the pack through additional lethal removal(s) (see pages 85-89).
August 14, 2012 – One or more wolves involved in injuring a calf belonging to the Diamond M Ranch.
Department initiates strategies to break up the Wedge pack to break the pattern of wolf-livestock interaction.
August 16, 2012 – Wolves involved with killing a calf near the Diamond M Ranch.
Department deploys strategies to break up the Wedge pack to break the pattern of wolf depredations.
The above actions led to the Department to continue offering compensation to the Diamond M Ranch (declined by the owners); lethally removing one non-breeding wolf, and initiating actions that could lead to removing four additional members of the Wedge pack. Before making the decision to pursue lethal removal, the Department reviewed the conservation objectives of the Plan to make sure that action was consistent with the conservation goals outlined in the Plan (page 64 of the plan). Several factors influenced the Department’s decision to lethally removal wolves:
The Department has documented multiple attack incidents on area livestock on multiple age classes of livestock (one adult cow, seven calves).
WDFW has documented multiple livestock injured or killed on multiple dates.
The attacks persisted well into the time when natural prey is abundant.
The Wedge pack is in the eastern third of Washington state, where there are no federal protections under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Removing a wolf pack in the Eastern Washington recovery area has a low probability of impacting the Department’s conservation objectives (statewide and regional), because the recovery area includes six confirmed packs and three suspected packs (see appendices G and H of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan).
The Department has radio collared the alpha male from the Wedge pack.
Relocation is not an option in this recovery area, because there are other packs present and support for moving wolves associated with livestock killing is unlikely from potential recipients.
This pack has successfully bred for a minimum of two years, based on photos last winter and the captured pup this summer. The local community believes that pups were produced initially as early as 2009 (four years).