WDFW Director authorizes lethal action in Grouse Flats wolf pack

Publish date

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind today (Sep. 24, 2019) authorized the incremental removal of wolves from the Grouse Flats pack in response to repeated depredations of cattle on grazing lands in southeast Washington.

The Grouse Flats pack has been involved in two depredations in the last 30 days and four in the last 10 months. WDFW includes a summary of all documented depredation activity within the past 10 months in every monthly update.

Proactive nonlethal deterrents (described below) used by livestock producers in the area have not influenced pack behavior to reduce the potential for continued depredations on livestock. Director Susewind's decision is consistent with the guidance of the state's Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and the provisions of the Department's wolf-livestock interaction protocol.

WDFW's approach to incremental lethal removal consists of a period of active lethal removal operations followed by an evaluation period to determine if those actions changed the pack's behavior.

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 lethal action (and nonlethal tools) in the Grouse Flats pack is to influence or change pack behavior to reduce the potential for continued depredations on livestock while continuing to promote wolf recovery.

Consistent with the guidance of the plan and protocol, the rationale for authorizing lethal removal of Grouse Flats wolves is as follows: 

  1. WDFW has documented ongoing depredation on livestock by the pack since Aug. 23, 2018 (seven total, four within the last 10 months and two in the last 30 days). The depredations were shared with the public in a timely manner, as described in the protocol.
     
  2. At least two proactive deterrence measures and responsive deterrence measures (if applicable) were implemented and did not meet the goal of influencing/changing pack behavior. During the 2019 grazing season, the following nonlethal deterrents were implemented:
  • Prior to the grazing season, Producer 1, who experienced a depredation on WDFW’s 4-O Ranch Wildlife Area, had the following nonlethal, proactive deterrence measures in place: monitoring the herd by range riding at least every other day per the grazing lease with WDFW, maintaining regular human presence in the area, removing sick and injured livestock from the grazing area, removing or securing livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd, and avoiding known wolf high activity areas. Calves are typically at least 200 pounds before turnout. Following the depredation, the producer hired two additional range riders and increased the frequency of range riding and human presence on the allotment. The producer also installed Fox lights and moved the cattle to a smaller fenced pasture where they could be monitored more effectively. The producer removed the cattle from the grazing allotment to pastures out of state on Aug. 10 when the lease expired.
      
  • Prior to the grazing season, Producer 2, who grazes on private pastures, had the following nonlethal, proactive deterrence measures in place: monitoring the herd by range riding multiple times weekly, maintaining regular human presence in the area, removing sick and injured livestock from the grazing area, removing or securing livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd, and avoiding known wolf high activity areas. Calves are typically at least 200 pounds before turnout. After the depredation occurred, the producer increased the frequency of range riding and human presence on the private pasture.
     
  • Prior to the grazing season, Producer 3, who grazes on private pastures, had the following nonlethal, proactive deterrence measures in place: monitoring the herd by range riding multiple times weekly, maintaining regular human presence in the area, deploying Fox lights, removing sick and injured livestock from the grazing area, removing or securing livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd, and calving away from known wolf high activity areas. Calves are typically at least 200 pounds before turnout. After the first depredation in the Grouse Flats territory occurred on the 4-O Ranch Wildlife Area, the producer hired additional range riders and increased range riding frequency to five days a week along with daily human presence. The producer also worked with WDFW to increase the number of Fox lights on the private pastures and installed trail cameras to monitor wolf activity in the area.
     
  • Prior to the grazing season, Producer 4, who grazes on a WDFW allotment and private pastures, had the following nonlethal, proactive deterrence measures in place: monitoring the herd by range riding at least every other day per the grazing lease with WDFW, maintaining regular human presence in the area, using Fox lights in their pastures, removing sick and injured livestock from the grazing area, removing or securing livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd, and calving away from known wolf high activity areas. Calves are typically at least 200 pounds before turnout. After the first depredation in the Grouse Flats territory occurred on the 4-O Ranch Wildlife Area, the producer increased range riding frequency to five to six days a week, worked with WDFW to increase the number of Fox lights on the private pastures, and installed trail cameras to monitor wolf activity in the area.
  1. The department documented these deterrents in the agency's "wolf-livestock mitigation measures" checklist, with date entries for deterrent tools and coordination with the producer and range rider.
     
  2. WDFW expects depredations to continue based on the history of this pack. The most recent depredation by the Grouse Flats pack is the second event in 30 days and forth event in 10 months. This series of repeated depredations shows a pattern in pack behavior as defined in the wolf-livestock interaction protocol. WDFW staff believe depredations are likely to continue even with nonlethal tools being utilized.
     
  3. The lethal removal of wolves in the Grouse Flats pack is not expected to harm the wolf population's ability to reach the statewide recovery objective.

    The Department’s wolf plan modeled lethal removal to help inform decision makers during this stage of recovery. The analysis in the plan included wolf survival estimates from northwest Montana, which incorporated a 28% mortality rate. Agency lethal control was factored into that 28% mortality estimate. To err on the side of caution (i.e., when in doubt, assume greater impact to wolf population so the true impact is not underestimated), the scenarios modeled in the wolf plan and published by Maletzke et al. (2015) included an even higher level of lethal removal (i.e., removing 30% of population every four years in addition to baseline 28% mortality rate). Based on that modeling analysis, as well as an analysis of higher levels of potential mortality on the actual population level of wolves in the eastern recovery zone and statewide, we do not expect the lethal removal levels considered in 2019 to jeopardize wolf recovery in the eastern recovery zone or statewide.

    In addition, wolf populations in northwest Montana and central Idaho experienced an annual mortality rate of 19-28% and still reached recovery goals in those states. When a similar mortality rate is projected to Washington’s current minimum count of 126 wolves, total mortality would be 24-35 wolves per year.

The department is providing one business day (eight court hours) advance public notice before initiating lethal removal activity. 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.

WDFW will keep the public informed about this activity through weekly updates. The next update will be provided on Oct. 1.

Previous updates

2019 Grouse Flats pack updates

July 12
July 25
Sep. 9
Sep. 20

WDFW will provide a final report on this and any other lethal removal operations during 2019 in the Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2019 Annual Report, which will be published during spring 2020.

A summary of all documented depredation activity within the past 10 months is included in every monthly wolf update.

 

Packs
Grouse Flats