Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
If the Smackout wolfpack doesn’t assail another cow or calf before Sept. 30, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will stop holding some of its past attacks against it.
The pack’s last documented depredation was two months ago, and it’s been nearly that long since wildlife managers trapped and euthanized a pup and adult female. The department hopes the lapse of time indicates the large pack has learned to stay away from cattle.
“To date, we’ve seen the desired outcome,” WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said. “We think our actions contributed to that.”
WDFW set the end date of its post-culling evaluation period in a report released Sept. 21 on its methods and motives for killing two wolves in July. The department was following a new lethal-control policy that lowered the threshold for killing wolves, but called for initially taking one or two, rather than several. The department cited research that suggests quicker intervention deters packs, saving cows and wolves in the long run.
Under the policy, WDFW also killed one of two known wolves in the Sherman pack in August.
The Smackout pack has attacked at least five cattle in northeast Washington dating back to last year. The cattle belonged to three different producers.
The department says it may kill more wolves if the pack attacks again. But after the end of this month, three attacks from September 2016 won’t figure in the department’s decision. The pack will still have two depredations from July on its record. The threshold for lethal removal is four depredations in 10 months.
Martorello said the pack has remained in its territory, 350 square miles northeast of Colville in Stevens County. The pack’s territory includes one state and six federal grazing allotments, and several private pastures. Cows are expected to stay on grazing allotments until mid-October.
“It looks like the Smackout pack is doing what the Smackout pack does, but to date it has changed behavior and is not depredating on livestock,” Martorello said.
The department’s lethal-removal report included previously undisclosed details.
Wildlife managers trapped wolves around the pack’s rendezvous site, where hunting adults stash pups in mid-summer. The department captured wolves within 1 mile of where the pack attacked cattle, hoping to influence survivors to stay away from livestock.
WDFW euthanized a 30-pound female pup on July 21 and a 70-pound female adult on July 30. The adult was not the pack’s breeding female, Martorello said.
The department preliminarily estimated that the lethal-removal operation cost less than $7,000, a fraction of past six-figure operations that featured helicopters. Martorello said the department determined trapping could be effective because the wolves were coming and going from the rendezvous site.
He said the department could use helicopters in the future. “When the (WDFW) director authorizes lethal removal, we’ll use the approach that gives us the highest chance of achieving the goal,” he said.
During the 10-day operation, WDFW employees put in collectively 317 hours to prevent more conflicts between cattle and wolves, according to the report. The department and ranchers used range-riders, lights and ribbons to deter attacks.
The pack had grown large in the spring, 13 to 15 wolves, and large packs are more likely to attack livestock, according to the report. Besides the two wolves killed by WDFW, one adult wolf that was attacking cattle was killed June 30 by a range-rider.