by Anonymous for Wolves
On September 4th, WDFW posted a News Release under the Latest News link on their website (wdfw.wa.gov) with this heading, Sheep moved from scene of wolf attacks. The release reads that rancher Dave Dashiell worked over the Labor Day weekend collecting his flock of 1800 sheep to eventually truck them, somewhat prematurely, to their winter pasture area.
This is good news for Stevens County Huckleberry wolf pack as it acts as a stay of execution after a WDFW contract sharpshooter from USDA Wildlife Services, shot dead the breeding female from a helicopter on August 23rd. The pack had been preying on Dashiell’s sheep with WDFW determining the need for lethal action. “If non-lethal tools fail, lethal actions can be taken. It is a process,” WDFW’s Wildlife Conflict Manager Stephanie Simek said.
Wolves are on Washington’s landscape and ranchers now need to put in place the new best practices for ranging livestock. These practices include quickly removing injured, sick or dead livestock, all of which help attract wolves and other large carnivores. Consistent human presence in non-fenced range situations to “babysit” herds is imperative. Such models are being taken from Western Idaho and Montana ranchers: range-riders go out on foot, 4-wheeler or horseback, attending to the herds.
“This may not be accomplished 24/7,” said Donny Martorello, WDFW’s Carnivore Manager, “but they go out as much as they can.” Wolves can also be hazed by shooting overhead and with rubber bullets, as well as by being chased off. Spotlights, flashing lights and fladry may also be employed.
Was Stevens County rancher Dashiell timely and diligent in his non-lethal tactics? Reports have been mixed. WDFW had claimed that Dashiell was out every day and night, along with four guard dogs, a range rider, and eventually with the department adding a second rider and a greater human presence during the night. West Coast Wolf Organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity, Amaroq Weiss, believes otherwise.
Weiss spoke with David Ware, WDFW’s game division manager who also oversees wolf management for the department. While WDFW had released statements that on August 15th Dashiell’s range rider was on task and the sheep were being moved, “Ware confirmed that these actions were not happening and that (Dashiell’s) range rider had quit a month ago. The following week the sheep still had not been moved and a range rider did not show up until August 20th,” said Weiss.
WDFW observed prey switching within the Huckleberry pack: the switch from preying on wild to domestic animals. This switch can be determined by energetics, ease in taking, and by abundance, what is most often being seen.
“Sheep are such easy prey and so abundant, it’s hard to get wolves to stop preying on them,” said Marearello. Dashiell’s range allotment is also rugged, brushy and sprawling; it can be difficult to protect livestock on this type of landscape.
The GPS collar on the Huckleberry pack’s alpha male collects data every 6 hours. It was observed that by the 3rd or 4th depredation, with the wolf traveling back and forth from the rendezvous site to the sheep, the animal had begun solely preying on the domestic sheep. This behavioral pattern can also be passed on to pups.
WDFW’s original goal was to remove four animals from the Huckleberry pack as a means to reduce their numbers on the landscape. This reduction would lower the food requirements and nutritional needs of the pack. In this case, the removal of the breeding female may have broken the Huckleberry pack’s pattern of sheep depredation. Said Martorello, “Removal of a single animal may have been enough to break the pack’s cycle. The animal was removed on August 23rd and the collared male has not been back to the vicinity of the sheep since the 27th. The sheep were not moved until September 1st or 2nd.”
WDFW claims that killing the breeding female was not the department’s intention. Their goal was to not take the breeding pair, but to remove yearlings and two year olds from the pack. The litter had a mix of colors with the pack’s collared adult male being black. The sharpshooter was to look for color (the breeding or alpha female’s color has yet to be released at the time of this writing), look for smaller–younger– wolves to shoot, and to only shoot when multiple wolves were under the helicopter to use for size comparison.
When the breeding female was shot by Wildlife Services, she was the sole animal under the under helicopter and weighed only 66lbs; small but not uncommon for an adult female wolf. “We were certainly disappointed in this outcome but, there was no way to sort from the air in this circumstance,” said Martorello .
When asked why take the risk of shooting the wrong wolf if there is no means of comparison, Marearello explained that the department was trying to achieve an objective and the only instructions were that if the opportunity to sort existed, to try and not remove the collared male. “You know going into it you get what you get. We did not have the opportunity to sort in this case,” said Martorello.
The helicopter had been up on multiple occasions and had been unable to spot animals due to weather conditions and visibility limits. And as we learned from the aerial shooting of the Wedge pack in 2012, time in the air translates to tens of thousands of dollars ($76,500 in 2012 to kill the Wedge). Per Martorello, at some point a wolf, or wolves, must simply be killed.
The Huckleberry pack is a relatively young pack, having only been formed in the last 3 years and with a young breeding female. It would not be uncommon then, for another female next in the hierarchy to step in and care for the pups, pups approaching full grown and traveling with the pack. She may also become the new breeding female. With the Huckleberry pack WDFW finds science, in these early stages, that pack cohesiveness remains and that there may not be a loss in pack structure.
Hope for the Huckleberry pack.