OLYMPIA — Wolves from the Smackout pack in Stevens County and the Togo pack in Ferry County will have their numbers reduced after continued attacks on cattle forced Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind to authorize lethal removal of one or two members of both packs.
The decision was announced Wednesday, Nov. 7. Based on a recent court order requiring WDFW to provide one business day (eight court hours) advance public notice before initiating lethal action on wolves, the department was to begin lethal removal efforts no earlier than Thursday morning, Nov. 8.
WDFW field staff confirmed members of the Smackout pack preyed on five cattle since Aug. 20, resulting in the deaths of four heifers and one calf being injured on privately owned pastures.
According to Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf policy lead, the Smackout pack contains four or five adult wolves, including one collared adult female. There are no known pups in the pack this year. The department documented the presence of the pack in 2011.
According to the 2017 annual field study conducted by state, tribal and federal wildlife managers, Washington state was documented to have at least 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs as of the first of the year. That compares to just 27 wolves, five packs and three successful breeding pairs documented in 2012.
Martorello reported the latest depredations from the Smackout pack crossed the threshold for considering lethal action under WDFW’s wolf-livestock interaction protocol. According to the policy, WDFW can use lethal means to deter wolves if three predations by wolves on livestock are documented by wolves on livestock within 30 days, or four within 10 months.
The depredations affected two livestock producers.
“The purpose of this action is to change the pack’s behavior and deter continuing predation on livestock,” said Martorello. “That strategy is consistent with the guidelines established by the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and the department’s protocol.”
The wolf-livestock policy requires livestock producers to employ at least two non-lethal measures to deter wolves from preying on livestock before WDFW will consider lethal action. Department staff reported both ranchers affected by these depredations complied, using at least two non-lethal methods best suited for their operation. Details of the non-lethal measures were provided to the public in a Nov. 6 update which can be found on the WDFW website at wolves at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/.
The department stated rationale for lethal removal of Smackout wolves based on the following:
The department documented five wolf depredations by the pack within the last 10 months and four in the last 30 days. All the incidents were confirmed wolf depredations, resulting in one injured calf and four dead heifers. All five depredations in the area occurred since Aug. 30.
At least two pro-active deterrence measures and various responsive measures, put in place after the initial depredations, have failed to meet the goal of changing pack behavior to reduce the potential for continued depredation on livestock.
WDFW expects depredations to continue based on the history of depredations.
The department has documented the use of appropriate deterrents and has informed the public in a timely manner, as described in the protocol.
The lethal removal of wolves is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach recovery objectives statewide or within the state’s eastern recovery region. Comparing the actual level of wolf mortality to that modeled in the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (appendices G and H), actual average wolf mortality is about 8.6 animals or 11 percent of the estimated population from 2011-2018. This level is well below the 28 percent baseline annual mortality assumed in the wolf plan model before any simulated wolf removals, which incorporates a 30 percent lethal removal mortality in addition to the baseline mortality. The modeling assumed the regional wolf population was at the regional recovery objective. In fact, the wolf population in the eastern recovery region has increased to more than three times the regional recovery objective.
The WDFW keeps the public informed about this activity through weekly updates on their website and stated they will issue a final report on any lethal removal actions after the operation has concluded.
To go or to stay? Togo pack continues attacks
Meanwhile, WDFW has documented the Togo pack for killing or injuring six cattle over the past 10 months in Ferry County. Susewind has authorized the lethal removal of the remaining members of the pack.
The department removed one male wolf from the Togo pack Sept. 2, after documenting six depredations by the pack. The department then suspended further action to wait and see if removal of the one wolf would deter further attacks.
WDFW staff documented a wolf depredation to a calf Sept. 7, after the removal period. That incident could have supported a decision to remove more wolves, but Susewind sustained the evaluation period because there was no clear path to removing all the wolves without risking the orphaning of one or both pups given their age and size at the time.
The department documented another wolf depredation to a calf Oct. 26, bringing the total to six depredations by the Togo pack in the last 10 months, and eight in the last 12 months. According to WDFW field staff, the calf had bite wounds and lacerations in the inner rear legs and based on the stage of healing of the wounds, the department stated the attack likely occurred in mid-October.
Another injury to a calf by the Togo pack was confirmed by department staff Nov. 1. Susewind reauthorized removing additional wolves from the pack, consisting of one female adult wolf and two pups.
Susewind re-authorized lethal removal of the remaining wolves in the Togo pack, stating the latest depredation is an indication that the pack behavior of preying on livestock has not changed.
Susewind reported the rancher has followed WDFW’s wolf-livestock protocol by employing range riders to monitor the herd and using other non-lethal measures to deter predation by wolves. Those details were made public with updates to the WDFW website Aug. 20, Sept. 13 and Nov. 6.
The affected cattle are on private land, therefore Susewind issued a permit to the livestock producer allowing him, his immediate family or his employees to kill wolves if they enter the private fenced pasture where the livestock are located.
Susewind reported limitations of department resources led to his decision to issue the permit to the rancher rather than having WDFW staff conduct the removal. Susewind may direct department staff to undertake the removal of the Togo pack wolves if more resources become available in the coming weeks.
The department is set to have three concurrent lethal removal operations underway in the pack known as Old Profanity Territory (OPT), Smackout and Togo packs.
Lethal removal of the two remaining wolves of the OPT pack was authorized Oct. 26, following 16 confirmed depredations on cattle in the Kettle River Range of Ferry County by wolves in the OPT pack.
“Authorizing the removal of wolves is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my professional career,” Martorello said. “Our department is committed to working with a diversity of people and interests to find new ways to reduce the loss of both wolves and livestock in our state.”
For more information about the director’s authorization, see Update on Washington wolves at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/.