Wolf depredations continue — Lethal take halted by court

Wolves continue to cause livestock depredations in the state of Washington. 

Following Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) letter in September directing Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to institute new wolf management guidelines, members of the Wolf Advisory Group (WAG) have been hammering out details to prevent wolf depredations of livestock.

At the WAG meeting on Dec. 2, members were deliberating over the proposed language dealing with the definition of special focus areas (SFA)—formerly called chronic conflict zones—and nonlethal deterrents.

In a sometimes heated debate between producers, conservationists and agency staff at the meeting, Donny Martorello, wolf policy lead of the committee, stated nonlethal deterrents in SFAs must be tried and ranchers need to do more to prevent depredations.

“We’re taking the most challenging piece of wolf-livestock conflict and trying to move this forward in a way that benefits everybody. You’re all being pushed and pulled by your communities,” said Martorello. “All of Washington is asking for this, the governor is asking for this, and the commission is asking for this. Producers, I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, but we know you don’t want any more cows lost. Wolves and cows dying every year isn’t working for any of us.”

Nonlethal deterrents

The draft document states in SFAs, “enhanced nonlethal deterrents” will be implemented for a sufficient amount of time by WDFW “prior to livestock turnout with the assistance of the livestock producer after turnout.” The draft document authorizes the lethal removal of wolves if “other livestock producers in the same wolf pack area are experiencing wolf depredations and they have deployed appropriate deterrence measures a sufficient amount of time prior to wolf depredations.”

The tools and methods discussed in the draft document and links discussing nonlethal deterrents include a combination of “well-established methods that may not have been previously attempted in the SFA or implemented effectively or new ideas.”

Some well-established ideas include changing husbandry practices during the high-risk season, fladry, electric fences, pooling resources to establish a range rider program, herder programs and managing a herd away from wooded areas.

New ideas for SFAs proposed in areas of chronic depredations in northeast Washington are reflective collars or bells for range riders to locate livestock, VHF ear tags instead of collars and bells, deterrent stockpiles for community use, InReach GPS for riders without cell service and cattle detection flights for unaccounted livestock.

The WDFW report detailing “Wolf-livestock Nonlethal Conflict Avoidance” stated researchers have demonstrated that wild prey density and livestock proximity to den location correlates with higher wolf depredations. The producers in the meeting noted that control of the ungulate population needs to be addressed by WDFW.

Rancher representatives expressed that the onerous nonlethal measures are on them. They felt the WDFW does not work with producers, with one representative stating, “We feel this document is reducing the department’s accountability. This document seems more like a policy. You can’t have a policy without firm directions. The people I talk to say that it is the fact that the department continues to let them down and does not perform according to the wolf plan or legislative mandates.”

Some members were frustrated by the comments made by rancher representatives, stating they do not work “nine to five” and try to work with producers for conflict resolution. Martorello noted the need to address the “repeated conflict in these areas” and for the section dealing with SFAs stating, “A lot of this does rest on the shoulders of the department to make it happen.”

What is an SFA?

The latter half of the meeting consisted of how to define what is an SFA. The draft document states SFAs are areas such as “geographic pack territories [regardless of pack name change], landmarks, allotments and pastures.” Criteria also include packs of six or more animals, four or more depredations in the previous grazing year, and two of the three years having lethal removal authorization.

The WAG committee members pointed out the Togo and Greater Kettles packs, located in Ferry County, would qualify for SFA designation as they had authorization for removal in two of the last three years. However, there was some confusion about whether “lethal removal authorized” includes if it occurred or attempted to be implemented. If lethal removal was authorized but not carried out, more packs qualify to be an SFA.

“I think it’s a semantics thing,” said a WAG member. “I can’t think of an instance when lethal removal was authorized where we didn’t try to remove wolves. I think the real question is, were any wolves removed? If it is authorized, we implement it to the best of our abilities.”

While debating the semantics if there was authorization for lethal removal and whether it was carried out, WAG members pointed out it doesn’t change the wolf’s behavior and producers look at it as a failure on the agency or nonlethal measures.

“I think when the nonlethals don’t work, it’s not the producer’s fault. When nonlethals don’t work, there could have been resource limitations. They were implemented the best they could, but they didn’t work that year, and in hindsight, we reconsider how we implement them,” said one of the producers’ WAG members.

Additionally, the definition of an SFA would include after a full pack removal. If it is recolonized the following year, it’s an SFA pack. If it is not recolonized, it will be reevaluated the next year.

A WAG member said it is vital to consider the physical area where there are wolves rather than the packs’ names, pointing out when WDFW did remove some of the Sherman Pack, wolves shifted to the Profanity Pack.

Martorello stated the issue would not be solved at the December meeting and encouraged members to talk “and test ideas with each other” regarding the topics discussed before their next meeting on Jan. 6. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

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