The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife let a lethal-removal order expire Sunday without killing any wolves in the Togo pack in the Kettle River Range of northeast Washington.
The department has not documented an attack on livestock in the pack’s territory for 40 days, agency spokeswoman Staci Lehman said in an email Monday.
Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind has now authorized the department to use lethal control against the pack five times since 2018. The department has removed one wolf in the five tries.
Scott Nielsen, who heads up the Cattle Producers of Washington’s wolf-livestock conflict program, predicted the pack will resume attacking cattle next year.
“We’re in this continuous spiral,” he said. “I think these kill orders have become meaningless. I don’t think they had much intention to kill wolves.”
The Togo pack attacked three calves within 30 days this summer, crossing the threshold on Aug. 17 for the department to consider lethal removal.
Nine days later, Susewind authorized killing one or two wolves, saying it was likely that attacks on cattle would continue.
Four days later, the department stopped looking for wolves, saying a 14-day window for changing the pack’s behavior had closed.
The order didn’t officially expire until Sept. 26, but the department did not resume searching for the pack.
Because of the pack’s record, the department made the Togo territory a “special focus area” this year. Ranchers adopted new non-lethal tools, such as electronic ear tags and cow bells to keep track of cattle.
The department’s failure to remove wolves will test ranchers’ patience and the department’s credibility, Nielsen said.
“Their solution is always centered around what more the ranchers can do,” Nielsen said. “To me, it really is a bad situation.”
Nielsen said dead cattle are hard to find in the mountain range and that wolves are still harassing livestock. Ranchers will have a better counting of losses as cattle come in from summer ranges, he said.
The Togo pack this summer attacked calves belonging to three different ranchers. The attacks occurred on public and private land. The pack has five adults and four pups, according to Fish and Wildlife.
Rancher Roland Singer, who has had calves attacked by the pack, said cattle will graze in the pack’s territory for another month.
“I don’t see the problem doing anything but getting worse over the next month,” he said. “The pattern has been established. It’s not going away.”