WDFW Director Kelly Susewind today authorized department staff to lethally remove wolves from the Smackout pack, which has repeatedly preyed on cattle on private grazing lands in Stevens County.
WDFW staff have confirmed that on five separate occasions since Aug. 20, one or more members of the Smackout pack injured one calf and killed four heifers on private pastures.
The depredations were reported to the public on Oct. 1 and 25, and Nov. 1 and 6.
On Aug. 20, WDFW staff that conducted the investigation documented bite lacerations and bite puncture wounds to the left hamstring, lower left hindquarter, the groin, lower right hindquarter and right flank. Hemorrhaging to the underlying tissue could be seen on the lower left hindquarter and left hamstring as indicated by swelling. Infection had set in on three of the wounds. The injuries to the calf are consistent with a signature style wolf attack.
On Oct. 14, WDFW staff that conducted the investigation documented bite lacerations associated with hemorrhaging, large canid tracks at the scene, and collar locations near the site. The bite lacerations and puncture wounds to the rear legs and tail consistent with a signature style wolf attack.
On Oct. 21, WDFW staff that conducted the investigation documented several bite lacerations, bite puncture wounds, and hemorrhaging to the underlying tissue adjacent to the wounds were discovered. The wound types and high target areas on the cow are consistent with a signature style wolf attack. GPS data from a collared member of the Smackout pack places the collared wolf in the same location that the cow was discovered deceased.
On Oct. 31, WDFW staff that conducted the investigation documented bite lacerations and puncture wounds on the right and left hindquarter on an external examination of the hide. Lacerations and puncture wounds were present on the inner and outer portion of both legs, as well as both sides of the rump. There were also bite lacerations and puncture marks on the right front leg just behind the elbow. Skinning the carcass in those areas revealed hemorrhaging to the muscle tissue.
On Nov. 1, WDFW staff that conducted the investigation documented bite lacerations and puncture wounds on the right and left hindquarter on an external examination of the hide. Lacerations and puncture wounds were present on the inner and outer portion of both legs, as well as both sides of the rump and the tail. There were also bite lacerations and puncture marks on the left front leg just behind the elbow. Skinning the carcass on the left portion of the hindquarter revealed hemorrhaging to the muscle tissue.
Susewind authorized “incremental” removal of wolves from the pack, consistent with the guidance of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and the department’s 2017 wolf-livestock interaction protocol. Both the plan and protocol define initial incremental removal as meaning one or two wolves.
Under the guidance of the protocol, WDFW considers lethal action against wolves if department staff confirm three predations by wolves on livestock within 30 days, or four within 10 months. Depredations confirmed by WDFW since Aug. 20 meet both those thresholds.
Based on a recent court order, the department must provide one business day (8 court hours) advance public notice before initiating lethal action on wolves. Consequently, the department will initiate lethal removal efforts no earlier than Thursday morning, Nov. 8.
WDFW will use humane lethal removal methods consistent with state and federal laws. The objective is to use the best methods available while considering human safety, humaneness to wolves, swift completion of the removal, weather, efficacy, and cost. Likely options in this case include shooting from a helicopter, trapping, and shooting from the ground.
Per the guidance in the plan and protocol, incremental removal includes periods of active removals or attempts to remove wolves followed by periods of evaluation to determine if pack behavior has changed.
The department documented the presence of the pack in 2011. Recent surveys indicate the pack includes four or five adult wolves, including one collared adult female. There is no evidence of pups this year.
The protocol sets the expectation that livestock producers employ at least two non-lethal measures to deter wolves from preying on livestock before WDFW will consider lethal action. In this case, there are two affected producers and both have met the expectation for using at least two non-lethal measures best suited for their operation. Details of the non-lethal measures were provided to the public in the Nov. 6 update found below.
The goal of lethal removal as described in the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is to manage wolf-livestock conflicts to minimize livestock losses without undermining the recovery of a sustainable wolf population. The purpose of the Smackout lethal action is to change wolf pack behavior to reduce the potential for continued depredations on livestock while continuing to promote wolf recovery. More information on the protocol is available online.
Consistent with the terms of the plan and protocol, the rationale for lethal removal of Smackout wolves is as follows:
WDFW has documented five wolf depredations by the pack within the last 10 months and four in the last 30 days. All of the incidents were confirmed wolf depredations, resulting in one injured calf and four dead heifers. All five depredations in this area occurred since Aug. 20.
At least two (2) 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 predation on livestock.
WDFW expects depredations to continue based of 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 Department will keep the public informed about this activity through weekly updates, and will issue a final report on any lethal removal actions after the operation has concluded.