WDFW Director reauthorizes lethal action in Leadpoint wolf pack territory

Publish date

On Oct. 9, 2022, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Kelly Susewind authorized the lethal removal of one wolf 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 two 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 Leadpoint wolves is as follows: 

Since the last update provided on Oct. 5, 2022, WDFW staff investigated an additional dead cow on Oct. 7. This cow is owned by a different producer (Producer 2) than the previous 2022 depredations. This cow was in an approximately 300-acre fully fenced pasture that shares a fence line with the private pasture where all other 2022 depredations have occurred and is within a half mile of those depredations. After performing a depredation investigation, WDFW staff determined the cow was confirmed to have been killed by wolves. The carcass was fresh upon examination, and the cow was thought to have died within 24 hours of the investigation. Following the investigation, the cow was removed from the property and disposed of at a carcass sanitation pit.

WDFW has documented seven depredation events (five within the last 30 days) resulting in five dead and three 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:

Producer 1: 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 Foxlights in the area where the depredation events occurred.

Producer 2: Producer 2’s pasture is in very close proximity to the private pasture where other depredations have occurred. Directly adjacent, and within 300 yards of the dead cow, there is an occupied residence with consistent human presence. Non-lethal deterence measures in place prior to the depredation included range riding provided by CPoW (two riders checking on the pasture), and human presence by Producer 2 and from several nearby occupied residences. Range rider logs indicate daily to near daily range riding.

The pastures between the two operations that experienced depredations are adjacent to one another sharing the same road systems and access points. Therefore, the same range riders have been monitoring both operations within the valley and where depredations occurred. The range riding emphasis was on Producer 1’s livestock because they are a cow/calf operation and calves are more vulnerable. Producer 2’s operation is a herd of larger yearling livestock. They were regularly checked on as the operators traveled through to check Producer 1’s livestock. In addition to range riding and human presence, Producer 2 calves outside of areas occupied by wolves, the producer removes sick and injured cattle (if discovered), cattle carcasses are removed or buried in accordance with carcass sanitation practices, and all of the cattle in the pasture where the carcass was found are at least 600 pounds or larger.

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 producers and range riders in the area. The Leadpoint pack has demonstrated a pattern of depredating on cattle despite the use of nonlethal tools including range riding, human presence, a RAG box, and Fox lights. They also continue to depredate on cattle despite a lethal removal action that removed two wolves from the pack. Before Oct. 7, depredations were limited to one producer’s private pasture, but the pack has since depredated on a neighboring pasture despite range riding activity and a high level of human presence. 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. WDFW staff discussed how removing one additional wolf from the Leadpoint pack might affect recovery of the wolf population in Washington. Staff did not believe that the removal of one wolf at this time would pose a risk to recovery. WDFW has documented 20 wolf mortalities to date in 2022, representing roughly 10% of the 2021 annual minimum statewide count. These mortalities currently do not include any tribal harvest that may have occurred on tribal lands this calendar year. If tribal harvest is consistent with previous years and one wolf is removed from the Leadpoint pack, total statewide mortality rates may approach 20.8%. This is within the annual mortality rates (range 19-28%) documented in Idaho and Montana during wolf recovery and population growth, and with these mortality rates, both states reached recovery objectives. Due to recent continued depredation within the Smackout pack territory, the Director authorized lethal removal of one wolf from the Smackout pack. If a wolf is removed from both the Smackout and Leadpoint packs, the mortality rate would be 21.4%.

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 expires when a wolf in the authorization has been removed or after Oct. 23, 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 Oct. 17, 2022.

Previous updates

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

Packs referenced in this update