OLYMPIA - Personnel from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) continued their effort today to find and remove up to four wolves from a pack that has killed at least 22 sheep from a flock grazing in southern Stevens County. A federal wildlife agent contracted by WDFW killed one wolf on Saturday.
Since Aug. 14, WDFW has confirmed that wolves from the Huckleberry Pack have killed 22 sheep and injured three more in six separate incidents, despite an array of preventive measures employed by the department and the livestock owner, Dave Dashiell of Hunters. This does not include 10 other sheep that died earlier and had decomposed to the point they could not be confirmed as wolf kills.
On Saturday, crews found five dead and three injured sheep that were attacked Friday night or early Saturday morning. Investigators confirmed that wolves were responsible for all of the attacks.
In an effort to break the cycle of predation, WDFW Director Phil Anderson has authorized the removal of up to four members of the pack, which is estimated to have up to 12 members. Early on Saturday evening, Aug. 23, a marksman from the Wildlife Services division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, contracted by WDFW, killed one member of the pack from a helicopter.
"Unfortunately, lethal action is clearly warranted in this case," said Nate Pamplin, WDFW wildlife program director. "Before we considered reducing the size of the pack, our staff and Mr. Dashiell used a wide range of preventive measures to keep the wolves from preying on the pack, but these efforts have not succeeded." He said non-lethal activities are continuing.
Pamplin said the situation meets all of the conditions for lethal removal established in the department's Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and related procedures: There have been repeated, documented wolf kills; non-lethal methods have not stopped the predation; the attacks are likely to continue; and the livestock owner has not done anything to attract the wolves.
Dashiell has worked closely with WDFW staff to prevent wolf attacks on the flock, which includes 1,800 sheep. He has maintained a continual human presence with his flock since Aug. 14, when WDFW confirmed the first wolf attacks. He has used four large guard dogs to safeguard the flock and deter wolves and has recovered and buried sheep carcasses whenever possible. Up to four WDFW employees and two range riders also have helped watch the flock.
Pamplin said Dashiell and WDFW staff have moved the flock away from the scene of the original attacks and are working to find a new grazing site far from the area near Hunters, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane.
To protect public safety during the operation, WDFW law enforcement officers from WDFW are strictly limiting access to the grazing area.
On Wednesday, Aug. 20, Anderson authorized Dashiell and agency field staff to shoot wolves that approached the flock. No wolves were killed under that authorization, which did not permit WDFW staff or the livestock owner to hunt the wolves or attempt to draw them into range.
In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal list of endangered species in the eastern third of the state, but the species is still protected under Washington state law. The state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and state laws set the parameters for responding to wolf predation on livestock.
The Huckleberry Pack is one of 13 confirmed packs in Washington state. It was confirmed as the state's seventh pack in June 2012. There is no documented evidence that the pack, named after nearby Huckleberry Mountain, has preyed on livestock until now.