Two southeast Washington ranchers have been authorized to kill one wolf each in a pack attacking cattle in Columbia County, the Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday.
The department issued permits rather than attempt to remove up to two wolves itself. The cattle are on private land and the ranchers are in a better position to watch for wolves, Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Staci Lehman said.
"We offered and they accepted, and if the producers don't kill any wolves and depredations continue that could change," she said. The permits expire Dec. 10.
The department believes the unnamed pack has four adults and four pups. The department has documented four incidents since Aug. 25. One calf was killed and four were injured, according to the department.
The attacks occurred north of the Touchet pack and west of the Tucannon pack. Lehman said the department believes a new pack has formed.
If confirmed, the pack will be given a name, she said. For now, the department is referring to the pack as the Columbia County wolves.
State law allows ranchers to shoot wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock. The permits allow ranchers to shoot a wolf they see on the private land with cattle, Lehman said.
Fish and Wildlife considers culling a pack after three depredations in 30 days or four in 10 times. Both thresholds were crossed Nov. 1.
The department detailed non-lethal measures ranchers took in the summer and fall to prevent wolf attacks.
The deterrents included range riders, herd dogs, lights and hazing, and moving cattle and clearing brush.
In September, Fish and Wildlife employees hiked to the pack's home base and yelled, blasted air horns and shot guns. The wolves moved, but came back the next day.
The department judged the deterrence measures sound, with the exception of the frequency of range riding for one rancher. The rancher asked for a range rider contracted by Fish and Wildlife, but none was available, according to the department
A labor shortage in southeast Washington made hiring hands hard, according to the department. Conservation Northwest provided a range rider for eight days in October.
Fish and Wildlife concluded that even with more non-lethal measures, the depredations are likely to continue. Livestock will be in the wolf pack's territory for at least another month.
One wolf already has been killed in the new pack's territory. Fish and Wildlife said a wolf found dead Nov. 5 was hit by a vehicle.
The department has confirmed four wolf deaths in Washington this year. In previous years, the department has documented 12 to 21 deaths. The population has continued to grow.