WENATCHEE, Wash. — The number of wolves in Washington grew to at least 115 last year — up by about 25 animals — and the agency that keeps tabs on them will soon consider changes to make it easier to kill wolves that attack livestock.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife released its annual gray wolf status report on Friday, and although the number of conflicts with livestock was not unusual, the agency hopes to find a better way to handle repeated wolf attacks by the same pack. Last summer, the Profanity Peak Pack killed or injured at least 10 cattle, and Fish and Wildlife officials killed seven pack members before the problem was resolved.
This year’s annual report shows that all of the state’s wolves are living on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, and three packs — the Lookout Pack near Twisp, the Teanaway Pack south of Wenatchee, and the Loup Loup Pack west of Okanogan — are in North Central Washington. Fifteen of the state’s 20 packs are in the northeast corner of the state, and half of the packs have a breeding pair, the agency’s report said.
The report also documented that last year wolves killed nine cattle, injured six and were probably responsible for killing six more.
On the flip side, 14 wolves died last year — half of them members of the Profanity Peak Pack, which were killed by state Fish and Wildlife officials after repeated attacks on cattle belonging to two ranchers.
Next week, agency officials will meet with the Wolf Advisory Group and attempt to agree on a new protocol for when the state will kill wolves that attacked livestock.
It’s not that last year’s conflicts were unexpected or higher than anticipated, said Donny Martorello, the agency’s wolf policy lead.
“There are no surprises” in the annual report or in last year’s numbers, he said.
But there may be a better way to handle problem wolves and prevent a repeat of last summer’s conflicts on the Colville National Forest, which, after three months, left 15 dead or injured cattle and led to killing seven of the 11 members of the Profanity Peak Pack.
The 18-member Wolf Advisory Group includes citizen members from several perspectives that includes ranchers and animal conservation organizations. Martorello said even before issues were raised over handling of the Profanity Peak Pack, the group had planned to revisit the agency’s protocols for when to kill wolves and to adapt to changes as they come up.
“All of us are looking for ways to help reduce the amount of conflict so fewer livestock die and fewer wolves die. Those are the common interests,” he said.
Livestock owners are already working to prevent conflicts using fencing, hazing, guard dogs and range riders to reduce the likelihood of a first incident.
Martorello said that although almost all of the state’s wolf territories overlap with livestock range land, 80 percent of them had no conflicts with domestic animals. Judging by wolf-livestock conflicts in other states, it’s not unusual to see 20 percent of the packs involved in attacks on livestock, he added.
Part of the discussion on a possible new wolf protocol will be whether to change the current policy, which now says that the agency will consider killing wolves after there are four confirmed attacks on livestock. Martorello said they will look at adding probable attacks — not just confirmed attacks — that include just one confirmed kill.
The suggestion is based, in part, on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study concluding that killing part of a pack works best to deter continued livestock attacks when it’s done within a week of the conflict. Adding just one week to that time frame makes the partial-pack removal about as effective as doing nothing, the study concluded.