On Sept. 21, 2022, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Kelly Susewind authorized lethal removal by WDFW and issued a producer permit for lethal removal of up to two wolves total from the Leadpoint pack territory in response to repeated depredations of cattle on private grazing lands in Stevens County.
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 five depredation events (five within the last 30 days) resulting in three dead and two injured livestock since August 22, 2022 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 the following:
Due to wolf activity in the area in previous years, the affected livestock producer opted not to utilize their U.S. Forest Service (USFS) grazing allotment during the 2022 season, instead choosing to keep livestock in a more defensible location (a private, fenced pasture in a valley bottom). The producer utilizes a Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW) range rider and added a second rider on Sept. 2, 2022. These riders, in conjunction with the producer and family, have maintained daily/near daily presence in the area where affected cattle graze. Riders and producers aimed to keep cattle in the valley bottom and out of a treed area, and trees and brush were removed in an area wolves like to cross. Sick or injured livestock were removed from the pasture when found and carcasses were properly disposed of. WDFW staff deployed a radio-activated guard (RAG) box and several Fox lights in the area where the depredation events occurred.
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 Leadpoint pack and associated effectiveness of the nonlethal deterrence tools utilized by the affected producer and range riders in the area. Staff determined that range riding/human presence was occurring on a daily/near daily basis, and that the affected livestock producer utilized proper sanitation practices and put forth a concerted effort to keep livestock in the area safe. Several reactive measures were implemented, including Fox lights, a RAG box, and the addition of a second range rider following the second depredation. Unfortunately, even with the additional effort, depredations have escalated in a short timeframe in a localized area. Based on this assessment, WDFW staff believe depredations are likely to continue.
The lethal removal of a wolf from the Leadpoint 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 Leadpoint pack territory and determined the current level of mortality should not negatively impact the ability to recover wolves in Washington.
The lethal removal authorization for WDFW expires when a wolf or wolves in the authorization have been removed or after Oct. 5, 2022 (regardless of whether wolves have been removed), whichever comes first.
The lethal removal permit expires 30 days from the date of receipt by the producer, or when the wolf in the permit has been removed (regardless of whether a wolf or wolves have been removed), whichever comes first.
The authorization and/or permit 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. 29, 2022.
2022 Leadpoint 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.