OLYMPIA — Washington’s Wolf Advisory Group settled on a lethal-control policy Thursday that if in place last year would have allowed wildlife managers to shoot wolves in the Profanity Peak pack nearly three weeks earlier to stop attacks on cattle in the Colville National Forest.
The new policy lowers the threshold for lethal removal and gives the Department of Fish and Wildlife more leeway to act as a pack shows signs of habitually targeting livestock.
WDFW hopes earlier intervention will mean shooting fewer wolves to change the pack’s behavior, the department’s wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said. “This could save the lives of livestock and wolves,” he said.
The group represents producers, environmentalists, hunters and animal-rights advocates. Members accepted the lethal-removal protocol to end a two-day meeting to review last year’s policy and to revise it for the upcoming grazing season. WDFW will issue a written protocol in the coming weeks.
Martorello said he called WDFW Director Jim Unsworth during a break and got the director’s support. Ultimately, the decision rests with Unsworth whether to shoot wolves to stop depredations.
Following a policy approved by the advisory group a year ago, Unsworth ordered wolves in the Profanity Peak to be culled after the fourth confirmed attack on livestock. The fourth depredation was confirmed 26 days after the first. WDFW eventually shot seven wolves, leaving four survivors in the pack.
Under the new policy, WDFW will consider lethal removal after three depredations within 30 days. Significantly, one depredation could be classified as “probable.” Previously, only confirmed depredations counted toward triggering lethal removal. To confirm a wolf attack, WDFW investigators look for wounds to the flesh, but in some suspected cases only bones remain.
If in place last summer, WDFW could have initiated lethal removal seven days after the first depredation.
Also, WDFW would have considered shooting wolves last fall in the Smackout pack. WDFW documented one probable and two confirmed depredations within eight days. Under the existing policy, the pack was still two confirmed depredations away from being a candidate for lethal removal.
In cases in which attacks are farther apart, four depredations will remain the threshold, though the window will be shortened to 10 months from 12 months. One probable attack could be counted.
Stevens County Commissioner Don Dashiell, a member of the advisory group, said the new policy improves the lethal-removal protocol. But he said it still doesn’t give WDFW the room to act as soon as attacks begin.
“I’m not that enthused because my vision was one depredation, and we do something,” he said.
The policy also calls for ranchers and WDFW to agree on tactics to prevent and respond to depredations before using lethal control as a last resort. Martorello said the department will not require ranchers to sign damage-prevention contracts. “It can be a dialogue,” he said.
Conservation Northwest’s representative on the advisory group, Paula Swedeen, said the changes were sensible.
“It’s at least a conversation between the (WDFW) conflict specialist and the producer,” she said.
WDFW also pledged to make more information available about what it and ranchers are doing to keep wolves and livestock apart. Swedeen said the on-the-ground measures should reassure wolf advocates. “I think it keeps temperatures down when people have more of a description,” she said.