Washington wolf group charts quicker path to lethal control

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello outlined why the agency will cull a southeast Washington wolfpack.

The seven cows or calves attacked by the Grouse Flats wolfpack in southeast Washington in the past 13 months belonged to seven different ranchers, Washington Fish and Wildlife officials said Thursday.

Each rancher took extra measures, before and after attacks, to guard their herds. Nevertheless, officials said they expect the depredations to continue, unless shooting one or two wolves deters the rest.

Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind on Sept. 24 authorized the pack's "incremental removal." In an unprecedented move, Fish and Wildlife held a half-hour phone call with its Wolf Advisory Group to present the rationale for killing wolves to protect livestock.

Wolf policy lead Donny Martorello and wildlife conflict manager Dan Brinson didn't take questions or comments. The department's use of lethal control of wolves is being challenged in courts in King and Thurston counties.

Martorello said the department's actions are guided by a wolf recovery plan adopted in 2011, which anticipated killing wolves under certain circumstances to protect livestock. 

The Grouse Flats pack has seven adults and two pups. One wolf was captured last spring and fitted with a GPS collar, making finding the pack possible. On-the-ground operations had not started as of Friday.

The department has not previously removed wolves in southeast Washington. The area, however, is part of the state's Eastern wolf recovery zone. Fish and Wildlife counted 12 successful breeding pairs in the zone last year, triple the minimum number to meet recovery goals.

Brinson described the zone's wolf population as "robust" and "secure." Wolves are not federally protected in the eastern one-third of Washington, giving Fish and Wildlife the option of using lethal control there.

Fish and Wildlife said that culling the Grouse Flats pack will not stop progress in wolves dispersing throughout the state.

Washington had at least 126 wolves at the end of 2018, according to Fish and Wildlife's count. The department calculates that 24 to 35 wolves could die this year and the population would still grow.

So far, the department has confirmed 15 wolf deaths. The department suspects one other wolf, wounded by a rancher as it attacked cattle, also died.

Fish and Wildlife also still intends to remove two wolves in the Togo pack in northeast Washington. The department has not reported any progress for several weeks.

The department cites research into Idaho's and Montana's experiences in concluding its lethal-removal operations won't stop the number of wolves from increasing.

The Grouse Flats pack's territory extends into northeast Oregon. The wolves range over grazing allotments in the Umatilla National Forest and Fish and Wildlife's 4-0 Ranch Wildlife Area. The pack's territory also includes large private pastures.

In all, 15 different livestock producers operate in the pack's territory, Brinson said. The seven depredations have occurred on public and private land since Aug. 23, 2018.

The pack's rendezvous site, where wolves gather to sleep and eat, is on private land, Brinson said. Several ranchers graze cattle in the immediate area.

After a pause over the winter and spring, the attacks on cattle resumed in July. Ranchers put more riders into pastures to watch cattle, according to the department.

Recommended for you