WDFW’s 2017 Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol prescribes a variety of management actions designed to influence pack behavior with the goal of reducing depredation on livestock while continuing to promote wolf recovery.
On July 20, WDFW notified the public that nonlethal deterrence measures were not achieving that goal in the Smackout pack territory, and that the department’s Director had authorized incremental lethal removal of wolves to address recurrent depredations. That approach consists of a period of active operations followed by an evaluation period to determine if those actions changed the pack’s behavior.
Between July 20 and July 30, the department removed two wolves from the Smackout Pack and initiated an evaluation period July 31 to assess the effect of that action on the pack’s behavior.
This is a weekly update related to this management action. The protocol states that once a removal operation has begun, the department will update the public weekly on the number of wolves removed.
Continued deterrence efforts
The livestock involved in the five Smackout pack depredations documented by WDFW since September 2016 belong to three producers.
Producer 1 – Wolf depredations to livestock occurred on Sept. 21 and 29, 2016, and July 18, 2017, on a federal grazing allotment. The producer continues to:
Use a range rider, who is on the allotment daily and has a data sharing agreement with the department that enables the producer’s employee to track the movements of collared wolves in the pack. The producer has additional range riders who can fill in as needed. Range riders have firearms and pyrotechnics to haze wolves found near livestock.
Maintain sanitation in the area. The range rider is removing sick or injured cattle from the range and securing or removing cattle carcasses from areas near livestock.
Use fladry and other deterrence measures. The cattle are currently enclosed in a fenced pasture surrounded by fladry (a fence with streamers designed to deter wolves).
Producer 2 – Wolf depredations to livestock occurred Sept. 28, 2016, on a federal grazing allotment. The producer continues to:
Use a range rider under contract to WDFW and has a data sharing agreement with the department that enables the producer and range rider to track the movements of collared wolves in the pack.
Maintain sanitation by removing sick or injured cattle from the range, and by securing or removing cattle carcasses from areas near livestock.
Producer 3 – A wolf depredation occurred on July 22, 2017, in a private, fenced pasture near the producer’s residence. The producer continues to:
Use Fox Lights (a type of strobe light designed to deter wolves and other large carnivores) around the pasture where the depredation occurred.
Rotate Fox Lights to other pastures.
Check the cattle daily.
The efforts to meet the goal of the protocol (i.e., to influence wolf behavior to reduce the potential for depredations on livestock while continuing to promote wolf recovery) starts before conflict actually occurs. Producers implement proactive deterrence measures at the start of the grazing season (see update dated July 20, 2017). Since July 20, the department has used a combination of nonlethal deterrents and lethal removal of two wolves to try to meet this goal.
During this time, two of the affected cattle herds have been in fenced pastures conducive to the use of fladry and Fox Lights. Like many nonlethal deterrents, the effectiveness of fladry and Fox Lights diminishes over time as wolves become accustomed to the devices and test the boundaries. As such, department staff members and producers change the nonlethal deterrents if they see sign of reduced effectiveness, like wolf tracks inside the fence boundary.
The department has not documented any additional wolf depredations during the ongoing evaluation period. Per the protocol, the duration of the evaluation period will vary in length and is largely based on the behavior of wolves in the pack. As stated earlier, the department may consider initiating another incremental lethal removal period if a wolf depredation is documented during the evaluation period.
Following the intent of the protocol and the relevance of the goal – influencing or changing pack behavior – the department is using data on wolf movements to help determine the length of the evaluation period for the Smackout pack. However, determining the length of time to evaluate the pack behavior is a dynamic and complex process.
The pattern of five wolf depredations spans approximately 10 months, from September 21, 2016 to July 22, 2017. No wolf depredations have been documented since July 22, approximately one month ago. Not having a known wolf depredation during the last month is encouraging. However, it is too early to say with a high level of certainty that the goal of influencing or changing pack behavior has been met.
During the last month, some of the cattle owned by one of the previously mentioned producers have been grazing on a federal allotment, but within large fenced pastures (approximately 4-mile perimeter) surrounded by fladry. In order to avoid overgrazing any one area, those cattle will be rotated to another fenced pasture with fladry in early September. After that, they will begin to graze on non-fenced portions of the allotment. At this point, the fladry no longer becomes an option because the livestock will no longer be confined to a pasture. The range rider will continue to check on the cattle daily throughout the grazing season.
When the cattle begin grazing on the non-fenced portion of the allotment, we will have more certainty in assessing if the goal of the protocol has been met. Our hope is that the combination of nonlethal and lethal tools has effectively changed the behavior of the pack. Additionally, we hope that, wolves and cattle can continue to share the landscape without recurring depredations even when the temporary barrier of fencing and fladry is gone.
If an additional wolf depredation is documented during the evaluation period, one important aspect of the protocol is to assess whether that depredation is a continuation of the previous pattern of recurring livestock depredations or if it is an isolated event not associated with a past pattern. Factors to help evaluate these situations include the location of the most recent depredation in relation to wolf activity areas and past depredations, the species of livestock depredated (whether it is the same or different from past depredations), and the proactive use of suitable deterrence measures.
We will continue to keep the public informed through these weekly reports.