WDFW director reauthorizes lethal action in Old Profanity Territory wolf pack

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Today, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind reauthorized WDFW staff to lethally remove wolves from the OPT pack. The OPT pack has repeatedly preyed on cattle on federal grazing lands in the Kettle River range of Ferry County.

In 2018, the OPT pack was involved in a total of 16 depredations in under two months (three killed and 13 injured livestock), which prompted the lethal removal of two wolves by the department on Sept. 16, 2018 and Sept. 28, 2018. On Nov. 13, 2018, the Director paused action seeking to lethally remove the two remaining wolves from the OPT pack.

Between April and July 2019, WDFW staff counted five adult sized wolves in the OPT pack. The pack denned this spring and now has at least four pups, totaling a minimum of nine wolves in the pack.

In 2019, three depredations documented outside of the grazing season were confirmed on Jan. 5. On July 6, 2019, WDFW staff confirmed an additional depredation, bringing the total to 20 depredations (seven killed and 13 injured livestock) since Sept. 5, 2018, and 15 in the last 10 months. A summary of the documented depredation activity within the past ten months is included in every monthly wolf update.

Based on the chronic depredation history for this pack and the most recent depredation, Susewind is reauthorizing incremental removal of wolves from the pack, consistent with the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and the lethal removal provisions of the department’s wolf-livestock interaction protocol. The three wolf depredations confirmed on Jan. 5, 2019 were not considered in the Director’s decision.

"This is a very difficult situation for all those involved, especially given the history of wolf-livestock conflict in this area," Susewind said. "Our goal is to change this 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 in the OPT pack is to change pack behavior to reduce the potential for continued depredations on livestock while continuing to promote wolf recovery.

Consistent with the terms of the plan and protocol, the rationale for reauthorizing lethal removal of OPT wolves is as follows: 

  1. WDFW has documented ongoing depredation on livestock by the pack since Sept. 5, 2018 (20 total, 15 within the last 10 months, as detailed in the monthly wolf update; the three depredations confirmed on Jan. 5, 2019 were not considered in this decision).
  2. At least two proactive deterrence measures and responsive deterrence measures (if applicable) were implemented and failed to meet the goal of influencing/changing pack behavior to reduce the potential for recurrent wolf depredations on livestock.

In this situation, the following nonlethal deterrents were implemented:

  • The producer calves outside of occupied wolf areas and cow-calf pairs are trucked to the grazing site. Calving outside occupied wolf areas protects calves when they are first born and most vulnerable to depredation;
  • The turnout date for grazing on the U.S. Forest Service allotment is June 1; the producer delayed turnout of the livestock until June 15;
  • As part of this producer’s business model, cattle are bred early, so calves are generally around 200 lbs. at turnout. Delayed turnout and early calving are considered proactive conflict mitigation measures because the calves are larger and less vulnerable. Additionally, deer fawns, elk calves, and moose calves become available as prey in mid-June;
  • Removal of sick and/or injured cattle when discovered;
  • Since turnout, the cattle have been in three main groups—two around salting sites and one around a watering site. The salting sites are predetermined by the U.S. Forest Service and have been used historically, so even if the salt was removed, the cattle have a strong fidelity to the site and familiarity with the location from salt in the ground. Accordingly, WDFW wildlife conflict specialists deployed Fox lights to deter wolves from these areas on June 23;
  • Between June 17 and July 6, regular patrols of the area were coordinated among the producer (at least four days), the Ferry-Stevens County Wildlife Specialist (four days), and department staff (five days); and
  • The department has a contracted range rider who monitors the producer’s cattle. The range rider had been deployed to a different (but adjacent) allotment in the OPT territory. Since the depredation confirmed on July 6, the department redirected the range rider to the grazing area where the depredation took place. 

Although not considered a deterrence measure, the grazing rotation on the allotment this season diverts cattle away from wolf rendezvous sites identified in previous years (per the U.S. Forest Service).

  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, range rider, and Stevens-Ferry County Wildlife Specialist. Each depredation was shared with the public in a timely manner, as described in the protocol.
  2. WDFW expects depredations to continue based on the history of depredations; the most recent depredation by the OPT pack is the 15th event (including six deaths) in 10 months and 20th event (seven deaths) since Sept. 5, 2018. 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 in the near future even with the current and responsive nonlethal tools being utilized.
  3. The lethal removal of wolves in the OPT pack is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach the statewide recovery objective. In 2019, WDFW has documented five known wolf mortalities in the state. In previous years, WDFW has documented between 12 to 14 mortalities annually; the population has continued to expand its range and grow each year, both in numbers of individuals and numbers of breeding packs.

Comparing the actual level of wolf mortality to that modeled in the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (appendices G and H), actual average wolf mortality per year is about 8.5 animals or 10 percent of the estimated population from 2011-2018. This level is well below the 28 percent baseline annual mortality assumed in the wolf plan model before any simulated wolf removals, which incorporates a 30 percent lethal removal mortality in addition to the baseline mortality. The modeling assumed the regional wolf population met the regional component of the statewide recovery objective. In fact, the wolf population in the eastern recovery region is three times the regional component of the statewide objective.

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

As called for in the plan and protocol, incremental removal includes periods of active removals or attempts to remove wolves followed by periods of evaluation to determine if pack behavior has changed.

The department will keep the public informed about this activity through weekly updates, and will provide a final report on any lethal removal operations in the Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2019 Annual Report.

For a summary of removal operations in this pack during 2018, please see page 37 of the Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2018 Annual Report.

Packs
OPT