The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has collared wolves, hired range riders and signed agreements with ranchers to prevent wolf depredations, according to a department report, whose release was upstaged by the killing of two cows in northeast Washington.
WDFW’s update on its deterrence activities was made public Friday, the same day WDFW investigators concluded wolves from the Dirty Shirt pack had killed two adult cows on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment in Stevens County.
The cows, in a herd of 83 cow-calf pairs, are the first livestock confirmed killed by wolves in Washington this year and the first since at least 26 sheep were killed last year by the Huckleberry pack, also in Stevens County.
WDFW carnivore section manager Donny Martorello said the department is using “time-tested” methods to prevent such depredations, but can’t quantify how successful they are.
“It’s not something we can directly measure. We know these are good measures to be doing,” he said.
Until Friday, the Dirty Shirt pack, like most of the state’s 16 wolf packs, had never been known to kill livestock, according to WDFW.
The pack was first documented in 2013 in the Chewelah area and had six members as of April, including an adult female wearing a radio-tracking collar.
“You never know where the conflicts might occur,” Martorello said. “Most of the time, there’s peace in the valley.”
The rancher has moved the herd to a lower elevation, and WDFW has had two range riders in the area since Friday in an effort to haze wolves and stop more depredations. The calves paired with the two cows that were killed have been accounted for, Martorello said.
Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Justin Hedrick said Monday he doubted non-lethal measures will stop more depredations. “None of it has worked to date,” he said.
Kettle Range Conservation Group Executive Director Tim Coleman said he believes wolf attacks can be prevented by non-lethal means. “Wolves are opportunistic. They take whatever they can. You want to take that opportunity away from killing anymore cows. Hopefully that solves the problem.”
The deterrence update includes new information on the size and location of 15 wolf packs. The report does not cover the Whitestone pack, which is managed by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
For the current grazing season, WDFW reported it has 41 agreements, up from 33 a year ago, with ranchers to share the costs of non-lethal protection measures, such as range riders, guard dogs, electrified fences and fladry, which are ribbons that flap in the wind. WDFW estimates it will spend more than $300,000.
“In general, we’ve gotten a positive reaction. We’re talking with more producers in the state all the time,” Martorello said. “For a few producers, signing an official contract with the state is not something they want to do.”
The producer who lost cows to the Dirty Shirt pack did not have an agreement with WDFW. Wildlife officials say they are discussing an agreement with him now and providing daily updates on the pack’s movements. He has not been identified by the department.
WDFW has contracted with five range riders, up from three a year ago, and has 11 people assigned in areas with wolf packs to resolve conflicts between wildlife and landowners.
The department reports it has captured and fitted 11 wolves with radio collars in the past year and now has collars on 14 wolves in 10 packs. The collars enable wildlife managers to track packs to document breeding pairs, the key measurement of success for the state’s wolf recovery plan.
WDFW reports it has had no reports of depredations by the Huckleberry pack since last year. Although WDFW confirmed 26 sheep depredations, rancher Dave Dashiell reported losing about 300 sheep.
“I think the proactive strategies we’ve pursued over the past year have put us on the right path and reinforced the importance of working with livestock producers to minimize conflicts with wolves,” WDFW Director Jim Unsworth said in a written statement.