Washington Department of Fish and Game
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed Oct. 9 that the Smackout wolfpack killed a cow on private land in Stevens County, about two weeks after the department said it was hopeful the pack’s appetite for cattle had been curbed.
The department, which killed two wolves in the pack in July, won’t consider restarting the lethal-removal operation unless the pack attacks one more time, crossing a threshold set by department policy.
“It’s hard to say whether it’s an isolated case. We’ll have to see what the next month has in store,” WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said Monday. “It’s a very dynamic system. It’s a very wild system, and you never know what’s going to happen next.”
WDFW reported the depredation Friday in a weekly roundup of wolf activities in the state. The department originally reported the cow was killed in the Colville National Forest, but later corrected the location.
The attack was the first confirmed depredation by the pack since July 22 and the third in less than three months, according to WDFW. The department will consider culling a pack after four depredations within 10 months or three depredations within 30 days.
The pack met the threshold in July, and WDFW trapped and euthanized two wolves. Two months passed without another depredation, and WDFW declared the operation over on Sept. 26, The department had hoped its new policy of intervening sooner once depredations started but shooting fewer wolves had worked.
The Smackout pack, however, remains one of the larger of the state’s 20 wolfpacks, with about a dozen wolves. The pack’s youngest members are now old enough to travel more widely than earlier in the year.
Stevens County rancher Justin Hedrick said Monday that he did not think WDFW’s incremental approach to culling the Smackout pack would stop depredations.
“The department’s evaluation period ended, but so what?” he said. “When the numbers get so dang high, they kill the game and run the rest of the game out, and it’s still a lot of protein they have to have every day.”
The cow killed by the Smackout pack this month belonged to another rancher. The Smackout pack has attacked cattle from at least three producers over the past year, according WDFW.
Hedrick said his family’s operation has lost at least 10 cows to wolves this year, though the number could rise as the ranch tries to bring in cattle from grazing allotments, he said.
The grazing season in the national forest ends this month, but the wolves will still endanger cows on private land, Hedrick said.
“They just follow the cattle,” he said. “The grazing season is never over for cattlemen.”
Martorello agreed the department and ranchers will have to continue guarding against conflicts between livestock and wolves.
“There is no off-season,” he said. “It’s vigilance all the time.”
Two environmental groups, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity, are suing WDFW in Thurston County Superior Court, claiming that the state must conduct a review of the environmental consequences before ordering wolves killed.
The suit specifically names WDFW’s decision in August to kill a wolf in the Sherman pack in the Colville National Forest.
The department has been following a policy developed during meetings with an advisory group that includes representatives from other environmental organizations. The policy requires ranchers to employ measures such as increasing patrols around herds before WDFW kills wolves as a last resort.