To quote one of the goals of the Washington Wolf Plan: “Maintain healthy and robust ungulate populations in the state that provide abundant prey for wolves and other predators as well as ample harvest opportunities for hunters.”
To quote from the objectives of the Wolf Plan: “Maintaining robust prey populations will result in three key benefits for wolf conservation in Washington: providing wolves with an adequate prey base, supplying hunters and recreational viewers of wildlife with continued opportunities to hunt and observe game and reducing the potential for livestock depredations by providing an alternative to domestic animals. Ungulate populations in areas occupied or likely to be occupied by wolves should be managed consistent with game management plans devised for those populations.”
I will use as an example a defined area, the Kettle Mountain Range North of Sherman Pass to the Canadian border, which is part of Game Management Unit 101. All of the GMUs in District 1 and many GMUs statewide that wolves have not colonized are following the same downward trend in the prey base. In the last several years the Sherman, Profanity, OPT and Togo packs have depredated on livestock and met the lethal removal and pack removal criteria of the Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol.
What is causing this area to have an abundance of depredations and wolf removals? Some of the Wolf Advisory Group members have blamed the ranchers for not conforming to their perceived standards on preventive tools contained in the protocol, others have wanted to add to the preventive tools and/or micro manage the protocol. The range riders have found the cattle unmanageable due to constant harassment and fear of wolves and everybody has been arguing about tools and their application.
The defined area in the recent past contained one of the finest mule deer populations in the state along with a vibrant and expanding moose population and an increasing population of white tail deer. Around the turn of the 21st century the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife applied and marketed a new predator management model, which is management of predators at a full carrying capacity based on all the available land-based habitat with no consideration for the needed prey base on that habitat.
I would define it as predator/prey management based on natural fluctuations. Less than a decade ago along came the wolf into these prey depleted areas with added protein needs. The department’s new model of predator/prey management, or non management, was how mother nature managed prehuman, both predator and prey species were destined to crash when they reached the apex of their opposing sigmoid curves or carrying capacity and given considerable time most species recovered but some went extinct.
Present day, this management model is successful only for the predator species when there are other sufficient protein sources on the landscape like livestock, and pets in people’s backyard.
The anecdotal information provided by folks that spend a lot of time in the area say the mule deer population is greatly reduced in the mountain range and the moose are basically gone. Today, data from a collared wolf in the area shows extreme daily movement in search of prey. Applying the Optimum Foraging Theory (the choice of what prey to eat is dependent on abundance of that prey) with the lack of natural prey, livestock becomes the most abundant.
That is the primary cause of the four wolf packs to prey depredate on livestock. Under this scenario no legal preventive action by the livestock producer will reduce this conflict between wolves and his livestock. We are continually attacking the symptom at ever increasing cost without thought for the cause. I believe that the next pack to move into this area will follow the same livestock depredation pattern.
The real solution is the application of holistic predator/prey management statewide and the overriding management tool should be monitoring the recruitment of neonates and to conserve the retention of the females necessary to achieve the goals and objectives.
Seven years have passed since the Wolf Plan was ratified by the Wildlife Commission. It is quite clear that the goal and the overriding objective of the Wolf Plan as stated upfront have been ignored by the department. This needs to change along with revisiting the predator/prey model and it needs to happen quickly if we are going to recover our prey base to its habitat carrying capacity statewide or its past abundance.
It is the department’s mandate to preserve, protect, and perpetuate and manage the wildlife ... in a manner that does not impair the resource.
Dave Duncan lives on the High Valley Ranch in Ellensburg Wash. He is a rancher, hunter and conservationist and represents Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation, a consortium of hunter organizations, on the state Wolf Advisory Group. He is also the chair of the Wildlife, Rancher, Sportsmen, ESA committee for Washington Cattlemen’s Association and has been closely involved in wolf conservation and management for over a decade.