WA's Incremental Wolf Removal
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
July 25, 2019
On July 13, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) lethally removed a radio-collared adult male member of the OPT wolf pack. This pack has preyed on cattle on federal grazing lands repeatedly in the Kettle River range of Ferry County.
WDFW Director Kelly Susewind authorized incremental removal of wolves from the OPT pack July 10 after WDFW staff confirmed a livestock depredation by the pack on July 6. In 2018, the OPT pack was involved in a total of 16 depredations in under two months (three killed and 13 injured livestock), which prompted the lethal removal of two wolves by the department on Sept. 16, 2018 and Sept. 28, 2018. On Nov. 13, 2018, the Director paused action seeking to lethally remove the two remaining wolves from the OPT pack, one of which was the wolf removed in this operation.
The livestock producer who owns the affected livestock took several proactive, nonlethal, conflict deterrence measures detailed on July 10. The producer is continuing to coordinate patrols of the grazing area with WDFW and county staff, removing or securing livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd, using Fox lights at salting and watering locations to deter wolves, and removing sick and injured livestock (when discovered) from the grazing area until they are healed.
WDFW’s approach to incremental removal consists of a period of active operations followed by an evaluation period to determine if those actions changed the pack’s behavior. The department entered an evaluation period, and noted that if the agency documented another livestock depredation, the department may initiate another lethal removal action.
The Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association does not approve of the WDFW’s "incremental" removal policy. According to the cattlemen’s group, "WDFW’s efforts are actually ensuring that chronically depredating packs are never fully removed and can rebound to create more damage for ranchers, according to SCCA.
"We are having more problems than other states with wolves because we are allowing cow-killing wolves to breed," said SCCA President Scott Nielsen. "This ‘incremental’ approach has not worked from the beginning and is still a failed policy."
As cattle producers wait for the WDFW Director to decide what to do, they are experiencing further losses, including four more dead calves since the agency killed one wolf from the pack.
"On July 18, the Stevens/Ferry County Wildlife Specialist discovered two injured calves on a federal grazing allotment in the OPT wolf pack territory in Ferry County.
The county specialist notified WDFW staff, who conducted an investigation of the injuries that day.
"External examination of the first injured calf revealed bite lacerations and puncture wounds on both hind legs. Examination of the second injured calf showed bite lacerations and puncture wounds on both hind legs and the rump. The left hind leg was extremely swollen and there was an open, infected wound on the upper leg. The right hind leg had bite lacerations and puncture wounds present on the outer portion of the thigh as well as the rump. Both calves were removed from the range; the calf with the infected wound was later euthanized due to the severity of the injuries.
"On July 20, WDFW staff examined a dead calf reported the previous day by a member of the public. The carcass had bite lacerations and puncture wounds on the inside and outside of both hindquarters and left flank. The investigation revealed hemorrhaging associated with the bite lacerations and puncture wounds to the left hindquarter. The calf likely died from these injuries. The carcass was removed from the range.
"The damage to all of these calves was indicative of wolf depredation. In addition, location data from a GPS-collared wolf in the OPT pack showed he was in the area where the calves were discovered during the time of the incidents. The exact date the first two calves were injured could not be determined from the evidence present, but the calf examined July 20 likely died less than 24 hours prior to being discovered. Based on the evidence, WDFW staff confirmed these three depredations were caused by wolves.
"On July 22, WDFW staff discovered and investigated a fourth dead calf while working in the area of the other depredations. The calf was mostly consumed and likely died less than 12 hours prior to being discovered. During the investigation, wolf tracks and blood indicative of an attack were discovered at the site. Based on the evidence and wolf presence in the area, the cause of death was probable wolf depredation.
"The owner of the calves is the same livestock producer who experienced wolf depredations by the OPT pack on July 6 and previously in 2018. On July 10, WDFW released an update detailing the proactive nonlethal conflict deterrence measures in place prior to the confirmed wolf depredation on July 6, and the subsequent lethal removal of an OPT wolf on July 13. Following the depredation confirmed on July 6, WDFW-contracted range riders were in the area for two days before pausing activity during lethal removal efforts. The WDFW-contracted range riders did not resume riding because the livestock producer prefers that contracted range riders not work with their cattle at this time.
"The producer is continuing to remove or secure livestock carcasses (when discovered) to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd, and remove sick and injured livestock (when discovered) from the grazing area until they are healed. WDFW and county staff are continuing to coordinate patrols of the grazing area to increase human presence and use Fox lights at salting and watering locations to deter wolves. Other livestock producers with cattle on federal grazing allotments in the OPT pack territory have deployed range riders.
"Director Susewind is now assessing this situation and considering next steps."