Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Kelly Susewind today (August 13, 2020) authorized WDFW staff to lethally remove one to two wolves from the Leadpoint pack territory in response to repeated depredations of cattle on private grazing lands in Stevens County.
Since the update published on Aug. 7, WDFW staff have conducted multiple depredation investigations of livestock reported as injured or killed by wolves in the Leadpoint pack territory. Of these investigations, six livestock were determined to have been injured or killed by wolves (two dead and four injured livestock).
The proactive and responsive non-lethal deterrents used by the affected livestock producer (described below) in the area this grazing season have not curtailed further depredations.
Director Susewind's decision is consistent with the guidance of the state's Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and the lethal removal provisions of the Department's 2017 wolf-livestock interaction protocol.
Consistent with the guidance of the plan and protocol, the rationale for authorizing lethal removal of Leadpoint wolves is as follows:
WDFW has documented eleven depredation events (seven within the last 30 days) resulting in three dead calves and nine injured calves since June 19, 2020 attributed to the Leadpoint pack. All events were considered confirmed wolf depredation incidents.
At least two (in this case, more than two) proactive deterrence measures and responsive deterrence measures (if applicable) were implemented by the livestock producer affected by the depredations, including:
- Calving outside the pack territory,
- Delaying turnout of calves until the end of May when calves averaged 175-200 pounds,
- Choosing not to utilize a USFS public grazing allotment due to wolf activity and instead grazing the cattle in a private, fenced pasture in a valley bottom,
- Delaying turnout of calves to upland/forested pastures until August (to coincide with deer fawns, and elk and moose calves becoming available as prey),
- Removing sick/injured livestock from the pasture,
- Carcass sanitation,
- Not turning out cows in estrus and allowing steers to heal after castration before releasing onto pasture,
- Human presence around livestock, and
- Using two Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW) conflict monitors (CPoW’s title for describing range riders) three to four days a week at least two weeks before the first confirmed depredation.
Range riding is typically the best-suited tool for large allotment-style grazing operations with dispersed grazing. In this case, the cattle are more defensible that those in an allotment-type setting, because these cattle are within a fenced pasture (that allows for using fladry, fox lights, and a RAG box) along the valley bottom, adjacent to a road, with dispersed residences, and with frequent human presence. Range riding in this scenario has been adapted to this fenced pasture setting for any additional potential it has to deter wolf-livestock conflict.
Following depredations reported on June 26, WDFW staff (including conflict specialists, wolf biologists, and district/wildlife area biologists), the Ferry/Stevens County Wildlife Specialist, and a CPoW conflict monitor organized a coordinated work party to put up fox lights and over a mile of fladry along the several-hundred acre pasture. Wolves were soon documented crossing under the fladry, and WDFW staff deployed a radio-activated guard (RAG) box and more fox lights as additional deterrents. WDFW staff also attempted to haze wolves thought to be using the private pasture.
The Department documented these deterrents in the agency's "wolf-livestock mitigation measures" checklist, with date entries for deterrent tools and coordination with the producers and range riders.
WDFW expects depredations to continue even with non-lethal tools being utilized. Staff also believe there are no reasonable, additional reactive non-lethal tools that could be deployed.
The lethal removal of one or two wolves from the Leadpoint pack territory is not expected to harm the wolf population's ability to reach the statewide recovery objective. WDFW has documented three known wolf mortalities in the state since Jan 1, 2020. In previous years, WDFW has documented 12 – 21 mortalities per year and the population has continued to grow and expand its range.
The Department’s wolf plan also 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. It is important to note that 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 true impact is not underestimated), the scenarios modeled in the wolf plan included an even higher level of lethal control (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 this action to jeopardize wolf recovery in the eastern recovery zone or statewide.
WDFW discussed the impacts of removing one or two wolves from the Leadpoint pack territory and determined the current level of mortality should not negatively impact the ability to recover wolves in Washington.
WDFW is providing one full business day (eight hours) advance public notice before initiating lethal removal activity.
WDFW will keep the public informed about this activity through weekly updates. The next update will be provided on Aug. 20.
2020 Leadpoint pack updates
WDFW will provide a final report on this and any other lethal removal operations during 2020 in the Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2020 Annual Report, which will be published during spring 2021.
A summary of all documented depredation activity within the past 10 months is included in every monthly wolf update.