Washington wildlife managers hoped shooting five wolves in the Profanity Peak pack would end the attacks on livestock, but eventually killed seven when depredations continued, spending $134,999 in the process, according to a report by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The report presented Friday summarizes WDFW’s action’s last year in the Colville National Forest in northeastern Washington, where wolves attacked at least 10 cattle and probably killed at least five more.
Most of the information already had been reported, though WDFW previously had declined to disclose how many wolves it originally intended to shoot.
WDFW initially announced it would remove part of the pack. The mission grew into total pack removal when depredations continued, though four wolves were still alive when WDFW called off the hunt in mid-October.
The report also updates how the much the department spent. WDFW had preliminarily tallied the cost at $119,500.
Most of the money, $73,440, was spent on helicopters, while $52,431 went for department salaries and equipment. WDFW also spent $9,128 to hire a trapper for 11 days. Although the trapper did not capture any wolves, the hiring showed ranchers that WDFW was willing to reach outside the department for help, according to the report.
The operation was the third time WDFW has shot wolves to protect livestock since 2012. WDFW hoped a lethal-control policy developed last spring by an advisory group that included ranchers and environmentalists would bolster public support for department actions.
Emotions, however, remained high. WDFW employees, ranchers and one member of the advisory group were threatened, according to the report.
Some environmental groups said they were outraged by the killing of wolves, especially on public lands. Ferry County officials and some ranchers said lethal control was overdue.
According to WDFW, the pack had a history of attacking livestock, and its territory overlapped 11 federal grazing allotments with 1,500 cow-calf pairs.
As the 2016 grazing season neared, however, WDFW was unable to track the pack. The pack’s only member fitted with a radio-collar, an adult female, had moved to the south with a male wolf to form a new pack.
“With the approach of the summer grazing season, addressing that situation became a priority for WDFW wildlife managers,” according to the report.
WDFW captured, collared and released an adult male June 9 and an adult female June 12. By then, cows were in the forest.
WDFW reported seeing cattle about 2 miles from where the female wolf was captured, but were not alarmed. The pack’s previously known den was more than 10 miles away.
By the end of June, WDFW concluded the current den was actually 4 to 5 miles from where cattle had been released.
Washington State University Large Carnivore Conservation Lab Director Rob Wielgus told The Seattle Times in August that the Diamond M Ranch had intentionally released cows “on top” of the den. WSU administrators repudiated the comment, saying it was inaccurate and had contributed substantially to growing anger and confusion.
The first depredation was confirmed July 8. The rancher added a range rider and “arranged for additional people to help monitor the cattle,” according to WDFW.
On Aug. 3, WDFW confirmed a fourth depredation by the pack, the threshold for considering lethal removal. The department confirmed a fifth attack the same day.
WDFW Director Jim Unsworth approved a recommendation by Eastern Washington Regional Director Steve Pozzanghera to shoot up to three adults and two pups, hoping that would be enough to stop the pack from feeding on cattle. At the time, WDFW believed the pack had 11 members, though the number was later revised to 12.
WDFW shot two adult female wolves Aug. 5 from a helicopter. WDFW also tried to trap and hunt for wolves on the ground, but were unable to find anymore in the rugged timberlands in the following two weeks.
Unsworth called off the hunt Aug. 18 — more than two weeks after the last wolf attack. The next day, however, WDFW documented four depredations. Unsworth directed the department to try to kill the entire pack.
From a helicopter, WDFW shot one wolf Aug. 21 and three more Aug. 22, including an adult female that was found injured Aug. 25 and dispatched, according to the report. The seventh wolf was killed Sept. 27. The final confirmed attack on livestock was Oct. 3.
WDFW ended the operation Oct. 19. The depredations had apparently stopped and most of the livestock were off the grazing allotments, according to the department.
“The department will continue to monitor the remaining wolves and, per the protocol, may renew efforts to remove wolves if wolf depredations on livestock continue in 2017,” according to the report.