WDFW Director authorizes lethal action in WA139 wolf group territory

Publish date

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Kelly Susewind today (Aug. 23, 2023) authorized the lethal removal of one to two wolves from the WA139 wolf group territory in response to repeated depredations of cattle on private and public grazing lands in Asotin County.

The proactive and responsive non-lethal deterrents used by the four 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.

Consistent with the guidance of the plan and protocol, the rationale for authorizing lethal removal of WA139 group wolves is as follows: 

WDFW has documented four depredation events affecting four different livestock producers in Washington resulting in six dead livestock since May 21, 2023, all attributed to the WA139 group. All events except one were considered confirmed wolf depredation incidents (one incident involving three individual livestock included two confirmed killed by wolves and one probably killed by wolves); the other incident was considered a probable wolf depredation. Three incidents occurred on private land (on small private pastures), and one occurred on a Forest Service grazing allotment.

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 implemented proactive nonlethal deterrents including deploying Fox lights, removing carcasses, near daily human presence, range riding multiple pastures, and using temporary fencing to reduce pasture size. 

Producer 2 provided human presence in smaller subdivided pastures (roughly 100 acres) and held back vulnerable cow/calf pairs and yearling steers from their summer pasture near the core activity center of the WA139 group. Producer 2 also removed sick or injured livestock, implemented carcass sanitation, and deployed Fox lights.

Producer 3 implemented near daily range riding on the Forest Service grazing allotment, removed sick or injured livestock from the range, and implemented carcass sanitation.

Producer 4 provided daily human presence, removal of sick or injured livestock, and carcass sanitation. Following the depredation in this producer’s pasture, WDFW staff deployed a RAG box and Fox lights.

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. 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 WA139 group and associated effectiveness of the nonlethal deterrence tools implemented by the affected livestock producers. Staff determined that range riding occurred on a daily/near daily basis on the large grazing allotment and human presence by livestock producers on small pastures occurred on a daily/near daily basis. The livestock producers used good sanitation practices and put forth a concerted effort to keep livestock in the area safe. Producer 2 held back vulnerable cow/calf pairs and yearling steers from their summer pasture near the core activity center of the WA139 group. Unfortunately, depredations have continued over a widespread area and timeframe impacting four different producers. WDFW staff believe depredations would likely continue given recent pack behavior and the limited effectiveness of additional reactive measures that could be implemented in these pastures and allotments to protect livestock.

The lethal removal of up to two wolves from the WA139 group 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 – 37 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 up to two wolves from the WA139 group 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 or wolves in the authorization has/have been removed or after Sept. 6, 2023 (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 Aug. 30.

Previous updates

2023 WA139 group updates

WDFW will provide a final report on this and any other lethal removal actions during 2023 in the Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2023 Annual Report, which will be published during spring 2024.

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