Eastern Washington ranchers could be enlisted to help kill problem wolves, according to a state Department of Fish and Wildlife memo presenting ideas for deterring attacks on livestock in a region saturated with wolfpacks.
Made public April 20, the document outlines several ways the state’s handling of wolves could change in northeast and southeast Washington.
“A possible consideration could include encouraging more involvement by the affected livestock producer in lethal removal efforts,” the memo states. “For example, in a situation where the department initiates lethal removal, consider allowing the producer to help the removal effort by issuing a permit.”
Wildlife managers prepared the paper for the department’s Wolf Advisory Group. The panel was scheduled to meet Wednesday and Thursday in Tumwater. The memo reviews the 2018 grazing season and looks ahead to this year.
In part, the memo also responds to House Bill 2097, which directs the department to develop different guidelines for handling conflicts between wolves and livestock in regions crowded with packs. The House and Senate have both approved the bill’s thrust, but have not finalized some details.
Wolfpacks are few in the North Cascades and unknown in the South Cascades, but fill up the northeast and southeast corners of the state.
Fish and Wildlife has not asked ranchers to assist in lethal removal, though the department last year gave a Ferry County rancher permission to shoot if a wolf came into a private fenced pasture with cattle. Fish and Wildlife said it was too busy targeting two other wolfpacks to deal with the wolf, which had been attacking the rancher’s herd. The permit expired without the wolf being shot.
Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen said Monday he believes ranchers could be more effective than Fish and Wildlife in removing wolves. Ranchers also would save the state money, he said.
“If the department is willing to let ranchers try, I think a lot of them could take care of their problems themselves,” Nielsen said.
Including ranchers in lethal removal would encourage producers to work with the department on managing wolves, he said. “It would be a reason why ranchers would choose to work with the department again.”
Fish and Wildlife’s policy of killing wolves in some cases to stop attacks on livestock is being challenged in court by the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands. The suit is pending in Thurston County Superior Court.
Other ideas floated in the memo for handling wolf-livestock conflicts in Eastern Washington include:
• Trap and collar wolves immediately after the first attack on livestock. Quick trapping may change the pack’s behavior, according to the department. Plus, a radio collar could track the wolves and make non-lethal deterrents more effective.
If the pack attacks a second time, the department could consider lethal removal if it knows which wolves are attacking. Generally, the department waits for at least three depredations by a pack before killing one or two wolves.
• Rely on trail cameras, howl recordings and tracks to monitor wolves, rather than radio collars. This would allow the department to focus on trapping and collaring wolves elsewhere to follow progress toward recovery.
Collar data helps ranchers protect herds and leads Fish and Wildlife to wolves they plan to kill. Nielsen said that if the department stops collaring wolves, it should let someone else do it.
The memo also said the department needs to be more selective in non-lethal measures. “Some knowingly ineffective deterrents have been used to show that all options were tried,” the memo states.
In one case, four “Foxlights” were placed in a cattle grazing allotment that was several thousand acres. The flashing lights might be useful in small fenced pastures, or around sheep that bunch at night, according to the department. Overusing the lights can make them less effective, the department said.
Fladry — ribbons hanging from a fence — can also be overused, according to the department. In one case, a cow carcass couldn’t be moved because of its size and the terrain, so fladry was hung to keep the carcass from attracting wolves.
A bear, unbothered by the ribbons, dragged the carcass away, and wolves ate it.
Also, the department noted, “placing a highly desired food reward within a small fladry area can encourage wolves to cross that barrier.”