WDFW documents legal caught-in-the-act wolf kill and the fourth depredation by the Smackout wolf pack

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In late June, wolves began harassing a livestock producer’s cattle in the Smackout pack territory on a regular basis.  The rancher’s employee documented changes in livestock behavior related to the harassment.  The employee began checking on cattle at night.  During the night of June 29, the employee hazed wolves near livestock with a spot light.  On June 30, the range employee saw two wolves in the act of attacking livestock within the Smackout pack territory.  In this incident the employee shot and killed one of the wolves and reported the incident to WDFW.  The incident was investigated by WDFW Enforcement and was found to be consistent with state regulations. In areas of Washington where wolves are not listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act, WAC 220-440-080 states the owner of domestic animals (or an immediate family member, agent, or employee) may kill one gray wolf without a permit issued by the Director if the wolf is attacking their domestic animals. The wolf killed was a female, previously captured and collared by Department staff in the Smackout pack territory in 2015.  The incident occurred on U.S. Forest Service land.  

On July 18, 2017, the Department documented the fourth wolf depredation by the Smackout pack within the last 10 months. WDFW officials confirmed that one or more wolves were responsible for injuring a calf on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment in Stevens County. The report was made by the ranch’s range rider who found the injured calf while monitoring livestock in the area. The fourth depredation within the last 10 months has prompted WDFW to initiate the provisions of the wolf-livestock interactions protocol (Protocol) developed jointly by WAG and the Department earlier this year. 

The four depredations by the Smackout pack include: 

  • September 21, 2016, a confirmed wolf depredation resulting in a dead calf.

    WDFW staff investigating the depredation indicated the injuries to the calf were the result of a signature style wolf attack. The injuries were bite lacerations to both armpit areas, both sides of the groin, the utter, the under belly, both shoulder points, the right Achilles, the left side of the jaw and the head and neck. All bite lacerations showed signs of oxygenation, indicating the calf was alive during the attack. Present at the kill site were wolf tracks and scat. GPS locations from a collared member of the Smackout wolf pack were also present at the scene. During the investigation strong signals from the collared member of the Smackout wolf pack were picked up on a WDFW receiver. There were no signs of any other predators or scavengers (ravens or turkey vultures) discovered near the kill site.

  • September 28, 2016, a probable wolf depredation resulting in a dead calf.

    WDFW staff investigating the depredation indicated the 800-pound Charolais calf appeared to be deceased for two weeks. Intact skeletal remains were present with a small portion of the hide still attached to the remains. Bite lacerations present on the calf’s tail were consistent with a signature-style wolf attack. Bite lacerations discovered on the neck portion of calf’s hide were consistent with a signature-style wolf attack. Periodic GPS locations place collared members of the Smackout wolf pack within the USFS Grazing Allotment. Wolf tracks were discovered at the site of the calf remains. Other evidence had been scavenged. The precise location of the attack could not be determined due to the time frame and intermittent weather. The intact skeletal remains had been dragged 50 feet down a slight decline in the terrain from the rumen.

  • September 29, 2016, a confirmed wolf depredation resulting in an injured calf.

    WDFW staff investigating the depredation indicated the Angus calf had bite lacerations to the right hamstring, upper right rear leg, inside right rear leg, outer right rear leg, point of right shoulder, lower right shoulder, right side of neck, point of left shoulder and lower left rear leg consistent with a signature style wolf attack. Three collared members from the Smackout wolf pack were monitored at the field where the calf was attacked during the early morning hours of 09-29-2016. Just after daylight on 09-29-2016, a minimum of three wolves were heard howling in the same field by a second group of range riders. GPS satellite locations placed the three collared members along the same fence line where the Angus calf was discovered for more than 6 hours.

  • July 18, 2017, a confirmed wolf depredation resulting in an injured calf.

    WDFW staff investigating the depredation indicated the combination of evidence/information, including recent reports of wolves in the act of attacking calves and VHF signals from a Smackout wolf collar on July 18. An injured calf was found hemorrhaging with bite wounds on the left rear leg and left flank and recent wolf collar location data, along with a legal lethal take of a wolf at the end of June 2017 clearly indicate a wolf depredation on calf #110. Wolf GPS collar data indicated that two Smackout Pack wolves were within one mile of the pasture for the last 60 days on a frequent basis. Both collars (and other non-collared wolves) have been observed in the pasture and in the act of attacking calves at the end of June. The incident occurred in an area of fenced pastures which is part of the U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment.

More information is available in the 2016 calendar year chronology of events document on the Department’s Smackout Pack website.

As a result of these events,  the criteria in the protocol for consideration and implementation of lethal removal have been reached for the Smackout pack. WDFW Director Jim Unsworth has authorized lethal removal of wolves from the pack, consistent with the Department’s Wolf Conservation and Management plan and the wolf-livestock interactions protocol. 

The purpose of lethal removal is to influence and/or change wolf pack behavior to reduce the potential for recurrent wolf depredations on livestock while continuing to promote wolf recovery. Consistent with the terms of the protocol, the rationale for lethal removal in this case is as follows:  

  1. WDFW has documented four wolf depredation events in the Smackout pack area in the last 10 months.  Three of those were confirmed wolf depredations and one was a probable wolf depredation.  The probable depredation was a part of a pattern of confirmed wolf depredations in September 2016, and occurred about a week apart and overlap of wolves and livestock in the area of the confirmed wolf depredations, AND

  2. At least two (2) proactive deterrence measures and responsive deterrence measures have been implemented and failed to meet the goal of influencing/changing pack behavior to reduce the potential for recurrent wolf depredations on livestock. There are several livestock producers within the Smackout pack territory using at least two proactive deterrents, some documented for more than four years. The livestock producer that sustained the July 18, 2017 confirmed wolf depredation is currently using: several range riders (one range rider is primary, but others fill in on an as needed basis), has maintained sanitation by removing or securing livestock carcasses, actively hazed wolves with a firearm and pyrotechnics, kept cattle in a fenced pasture within the allotment due to wolf activity, spotlighting nightly, wolf GPS collar data in the area to monitor activity near cattle, used fladry when needed, a RAG box when needed, and several other deterrents in the past. The range rider started patrolling the area prior to the June 1 turnout in 2017, and communicates frequently with the producer and the local Wildlife Conflict Specialist. Information on denning and wolf activity was also shared with the producer, which the producer has avoided those high use wolf areas. Another producer that was involved in one of the three 2016 depredations within the Smackout territory have been using WDFW contracted range riders, sanitation, and removal of injured cattle from the range, AND

  3. WDFW expects depredations to continue (e.g., deterrence measures have not changed pack behavior, and overlap between wolves and livestock is expected to continue in near future), AND

  4. The Department has documented the use of appropriate deterrence measures and notified the public of wolf activities in a timely manner as outlined in the wolf-livestock protocol.  We informed the WAG and interested parties by email when the pack was discovered and provided a map of the pack’s range. WDFW provided updates on September 23, 28, and 30, 2016 with information on all wolf depredations on livestock in the area, and we described the preventive measures in updates to the chronology of events, AND

  5. The lethal removal of wolves is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach recovery objectives statewide or within individual wolf recovery regions.

As mentioned earlier, Director Unsworth has authorized an incremental removal of pack members from the Smackout pack.  The last estimate of pack size from the 2016 winter survey was 8 wolves. The pack as since produced an unknown number of pups. The Department expect to begin the effort this week and will likely continue for two-weeks or less depending on the outcome.  

The Department will use humane lethal removal methods consistent with state and federal laws. The objective of the methodology is to use the best method available while considering human safety, humaneness to wolves, swift completion of the removal, weather, efficacy, and cost. Likely options include shooting from a helicopter, trapping, and shooting from the ground. 

Per the protocol, WDFW’s approach is incremental removal, which has periods of active removals or attempts to remove wolves, followed by periods of evaluation to see if the goal of changing pack behavior was met. The first incremental removal will follow the provision of the protocol in section 7. 

The Department will keep the public informed about this activity through weekly updates. Department will provide a final report to the public on any lethal removal action after the operation has concluded.