WDFW Director authorizes lethal action in Smackout wolf pack territory

Publish date

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Kelly Susewind today (Sept. 1, 2022) authorized the lethal removal of one wolf from the Smackout pack territory in response to repeated depredations of cattle on public and private grazing lands in Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties.

The proactive and responsive non-lethal deterrents used by the three affected livestock producers (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 (PDF).

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

Since the last update provided on Aug. 30, 2022, WDFW staff investigated two additional dead calves on Aug. 31 in a private pasture confirmed as a wolf depredation event.

WDFW has documented five depredation events (five within the last 30 days) affecting three different livestock producers resulting in four dead and two injured calves since August 17, 2022 attributed to the Smackout pack. All events except one were considered confirmed wolf depredation incidents; the other incident was considered a probable wolf depredation.

At least two (in this case, more than two) proactive deterrence measures and responsive deterrence measures (if applicable) were implemented by the livestock producers affected by the depredations, including the following:

Producer 1 impacted by depredations utilized multiple range riders to monitor livestock on a daily/near daily basis on the U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment where their livestock graze. The producer also deployed 20 VHF ear tags on adult cows to help locate groups of cattle in the large allotment. Sick or injured livestock were removed from the allotment when found and carcasses were properly disposed of. When depredations started to occur, the producer began camping near the meadows where a large number of livestock congregated and spent several nights a week there. The producer penned their cattle at night and spotlighted them. A Fox light was deployed on Aug. 25 and a Radio-Activated Guard (RAG) box was deployed on Aug. 29. This producer removed several smaller calves from the allotment after depredations started to occur to reduce the likelihood of potential depredations. WDFW staff and range riders have relayed high wolf-use areas to the producer after the first confirmed depredation based on collar data to concentrate resources in those areas.

Producer 2 utilized a range rider and three individuals for human presence to monitor livestock on a daily/near daily basis on the U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment where their livestock graze. The producer also spent time on the allotment to increase human presence. Sick or injured livestock were removed from the allotment when found and carcasses were properly disposed of. The livestock producer delayed turnout until mid- to late July in this allotment and removed several smaller calves from the allotment after depredations started to occur to keep them safe. Fox lights were deployed in areas where livestock congregate and the producer and other individuals increased the time they spent monitoring livestock by camping near the cattle.

Producer 3 utilized a range rider to monitor livestock four days per week on leased private pasture. The livestock producer spent time on the pasture when the range rider was not there per a Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW) agreement. Sick or injured livestock were removed from the allotment when found and carcasses were properly disposed of. During the winter, the property owner (who runs livestock on this property in the winter) deployed fladry and Fox lights on the pasture to help keep livestock safe early in the year in this location.

Historically, range riding has been used in the area. This year, even more effort was put into increasing the effectiveness of range riding through increased communication and rotation of riders. Northeast Washington Wolf Cattle Collaborative (NEWWCC), Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW), and WDFW range riders as well as WDFW staff increased communication to ensure consistent monitoring of livestock in areas with increased wolf activity.

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. The proactive and reactive non-lethal deterrence measures implemented by these livestock producers were those best suited for their operations in the professional judgment of WDFW staff.

WDFW staff discussed the recent depredations by the Smackout pack and associated effectiveness of the nonlethal deterrence tools utilized by the affected producers and range riders in the area. Staff determined that range riding was occurring on a daily/near daily basis, and that the affected livestock producers utilized proper sanitation practices and put forth a concerted effort to keep livestock in the area safe. In addition, one of the producers was utilizing transmitter ear tags to help locate and monitor livestock. Several reactive measures were implemented, including Fox lights, a RAG box, enhanced communication of range riders to ensure good coverage of monitoring livestock near high wolf activity areas, camping near the meadows several nights a week in an affected allotment, and removal of some of the smaller calves from one of the allotments after depredations started. Unfortunately, even with the additional effort, depredations have continued over a widespread area, impacting three different producers in a two-week timeframe, which appears to be an escalation of depredation behavior. Based on this assessment, WDFW staff believe depredations are likely to continue. The decision to remove a single wolf, rather than one to two, is to increase chances that enough adult wolves in the pack remain to care for juvenile wolves.

The lethal removal of a wolf from the Smackout pack territory is not expected to harm the wolf population's ability to reach the statewide or local recovery objective. In previous years, WDFW has documented 12 – 30 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 a wolf from the Smackout pack territory and determined the current level of mortality should not negatively impact the ability to recover wolves in Washington.

The lethal removal authorization expires when a wolf in the authorization has been removed or after Sept. 15, 2022 (regardless of whether wolves have been removed), whichever comes first. The authorization could be extended or amended to include other wolves in the pack area if additional depredations are documented following the initial authorization or other extenuating circumstances are identified. 

WDFW will keep the public informed about this activity through weekly updates. The next update will be provided on Sept. 8.

Previous updates

2022 Smackout pack updates

WDFW will provide a final report on this and any other lethal removal actions during 2022 in the Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2022 Annual Report, which will be published during spring 2023.

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

Packs referenced in this update