The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife suggested Wednesday creating a new category of wolf attacks on livestock, blurring what’s now a bright line between confirmed and probable depredations.
The new category, called “qualifying depredations,” could change the way WDFW counts attacks that lead to culling wolfpacks.
The department’s staff included the idea in an 11-page document presented to WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group in a conference call.
WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said the paper reflected the staff’s thinking on preventing and responding to depredations during the upcoming grazing season.
He said the department was not making any proposals, but wanted to circulate the thoughts before the advisory group meets March 29 and 30 in Olympia. “Everything’s on the table,” Martorello said.
Currently, WDFW’s policy is to consider shooting wolves after four confirmed depredations.
Depredations classified as “probable” don’t count toward the threshold, even in cases in which wolves are strongly suspected, but scavengers have picked the carcass and removed evidence such as bite marks.
WDFW staff suggested tallying qualifying depredations in considering whether to lethally remove wolves.
Qualifying depredations would include probable attacks that fit in a pattern with at least one confirmed case.
The department did not make a recommendation on whether the threshold for lethal removal should remain at four depredations.
Martorello said WDFW would someday like the flexibility to intervene whenever it believes shooting wolves can change pack behavior, ultimately reducing the number of livestock and wolves killed.
The department, however, recognizes the public wants certainty and a way to hold WDFW accountable, he said.
The advisory group will have to set the threshold, Martorello said.
“It’s not a science-based number. It’s a social call,” he said.
If WDFW had counted confirmed and probable depredations last summer in the Colville National Forest, the department would have considered shooting wolves in the Profanity Peak pack a week after the first confirmed depredation.
Instead, the department started hunting for the pack nearly three weeks later, after the fourth confirmed depredation.
WDFW eventually shot seven wolves.
A study funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and published in 2015 concluded that partial pack removal was effective in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming if done soon after a depredation.
Partial pack removal worked best if conducted within seven days of a depredation. If wildlife managers waited 14 days, there was no difference between partial pack removal and doing nothing, according to the study.