Washington’s Wolf Population Surge Slows, Worrying Advocates

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/washington/articles/2018-03-25/washingtons-wolf-population-surge-slows-worrying-advocates

Growth in Washington’s gray wolf population slowed dramatically last year, raising concerns from an environmental group that says the state shouldn’t kill wolves that prey on livestock.

March 25, 2018, at 12:38

The Associated Press

FILE – In this June 18, 2011, file photo, a map showing confirmed and possible wolf packs in Washington state sits next to a magazine about wolves on the kitchen table of Ray Robertson, who is both both a volunteer for Conservation Northwest and a contractor for the U.S. Forest Service, near Twisp, Wash. Growth in Washington’s gray wolf population slowed dramatically in 2017, raising concerns from an environmental group that says the state should stop killing wolves that prey on livestock. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File) The Associated Press

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Growth in Washington’s gray wolf population slowed dramatically last year, raising concerns from an environmental group that says the state should stop killing wolves that prey on livestock.

At the end of 2017, Washington was home to at least 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a report released last week.

That’s the highest the population has been since annual surveys started in 2008, the agency said. However, last year’s count was up just 6 percent from the minimum of 115 wolves — with 20 packs and 10 breeding pairs — reported at the end of 2016.

By contrast, wolf populations grew at a rate of around 30 percent per year the previous decade.

 “The sharp departure from wolf number increases in past years is cause for serious concern,” said Amaroq Weiss, wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “While population growth hasn’t stopped entirely, these modest numbers clearly indicate the state should not kill any more wolves.”

Wolves are rebounding in several Western states after being wiped out in the continental U.S. in all but a slice of Minnesota. But their return has brought contentious discussions among conservationists, ranchers, hunters and others about how the animals should be managed.

In Washington, Weiss has criticized rule changes last year that allow the state to take quicker action to kill wolves that attack livestock. Environmentalists argue ranchers should take more actions to minimize contact between livestock and wolves.

Washington documented 14 wolves killed in 2017, by a combination of hunting, poaching, vehicle collisions or other causes.

 Three of those wolves were killed by members of the Colville Indian Tribe in a limited hunting season allowed on the reservation. Wolves are a protected species elsewhere in the state and cannot be hunted for sport.

Another three were designated problem wolves and killed by the state.

Ben Maletzke, a statewide wolf specialist with the state wildlife department, noted his agency employed an array of nonlethal strategies last year, including cost-sharing agreements with 37 ranchers who took steps to protect their livestock. State assistance included range riders to check on livestock, guard dogs, lighting, flagging for fences, and data on certain packs’ movements.

“We know that some level of conflict is inevitable between wolves and livestock sharing the landscape,” Maletzke said. “Our goal is to minimize that conflict as the gray wolf population continues to recover.”

Maletzke said five of the 22 known packs that existed in Washington at some point during 2017 were involved in at least one livestock death.

The agency confirmed wolves killed at least eight cattle and injured five others last year. It processed two claims totaling $3,700 to compensate livestock producers for their losses in 2017.

Wolves were wiped out in Washington early in the last century and began migrating back from neighboring areas earlier this century. Their return has sparked conflict with livestock producers, especially in the three rural counties north of Spokane where most of the wolves live.

Not all conservation groups were disappointed by the 2017 numbers.

“We’re glad to see that Washington’s wolf population continues to grow, and are particularly excited to see a notable increase in the number of successful breeding pairs compared to past years,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest.

 Still, officials are concerned because most of the wolf packs are found in northeast Washington, and there is little sign the animals are moving into the Cascade Range or the western half of the state. According to the 2017 survey, 15 of the 22 known packs range in rural Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.

Wildlife managers also have been tracking the movements of a wolf in western Washington’s Skagit County that was captured and fitted with a radio-collar in June, Maletzke said.

Since 1980, gray wolves have been listed under state law as endangered throughout Washington. In the western two-thirds of the state, they are also listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Fighting over wolves has moved to the courts.

In September, the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands sued the department for failing to conduct required environmental reviews before killing wolves. In November, the center filed a separate lawsuit against the department for allegedly failing to turn over requested documents pertaining to its wolf kills as required by law.

“Wolf recovery in Washington is still in its infancy, and the population should be continuing to grow, not stagnating,” Weiss said.

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Washington to study moving wolves from east to west

Washington lawmakers funded a study on moving wolves and a search to find wolves in the South Cascades

By Don Jenkins

EO Media Group

Published on March 20, 2018 5:36PM

Don Jenkins/Capital Press
Washington House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, listened to testimony Jan. 31 in Olympia on a bill to redistribute wolves within the state. Blake opposes translocating wolves to unoccupied regions, but let the bill through his committee, saying current state policy was unfair to northeast Washington.

Don Jenkins/Capital Press Washington House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, listened to testimony Jan. 31 in Olympia on a bill to redistribute wolves within the state. Blake opposes translocating wolves to unoccupied regions, but let the bill through his committee, saying current state policy was unfair to northeast Washington.

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The Washington Legislature finished the 2018 session March 8 by passing a spending plan that includes money to study moving wolves from northeast Washington to unoccupied territories to the west.

DON JENKINS/CAPITAL PRESS

The Washington Legislature finished the 2018 session March 8 by passing a spending plan that includes money to study moving wolves from northeast Washington to unoccupied territories to the west.

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OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers took two tentative steps earlier this month to hasten the day wolves are off the state’s protected-species list.

The spending plan passed on the session’s last day appropriates $183,000 to study moving wolves from northeast Washington to unoccupied territories to the west.

It also allocates $172,000 to the University of Washington to search for wolves in the South Cascades.

If wolves are moved or confirmed in the South Cascades, they would be big steps toward delisting.

Lawmakers are realizing the burden that wolf recolonization has put on four northeast counties, House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said March 9.

“I think some of the barriers are starting to break down,” Blake said.

Wolves have surpassed recovery goals in the northeast corner, but are too few or non-existent elsewhere to meet the state’s objectives. A decade after the Department of Fish and Wildlife identified Washington’s first pack, the South Cascades doesn’t have a confirmed wolf,

Already on the west side?

Blake said hunters tell him that wolves are in the region.

“We know there are wolves down there, but Fish and Wildlife has been so busy putting fires out in (northeast) Washington that they haven’t had the time or resources to put into the South Cascades,” he said.

The money is for a three-year study. Besides looking for wolves, researchers will study the region’s prey base.

Blake said he’s mostly interesting in sniffing out wolves. “If we’re ever going to get wolves delisted, we have to find out how many of them are in the South Cascades,” he said. “I firmly believe wolves are there. It is diverse, rugged country.”

Fish and Wildlife wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said the department has followed up on credible reports of wolves in the South Cascades. “It’s kind of like finding a needle in a haystack,” he said. “We expect there are at least a few dispersers.”

The state’s 2011 wolf plan holds out the possibility of moving wolves to energize recovery. The Department of Fish and Wildlife says it’s not necessary. The department maintains wolves will spread out on their own. For several years the department has said recovery goals could be met as soon as 2021.

“I don’t wish wolves on anybody else, but they are not dispersing naturally, like they told us they would,” said Scott Nielsen, president of the Cattle Producers of Washington, many of whose members ranch in northeast Washington. “The wolves are putting an incredible burden on a small portion of the state.”

No state involvement for now

The state won’t start moving wolves soon, if at all. The budget directs Fish and Wildlife to follow the State Environmental Protection Act and report back to the Legislature by the end of 2019. The act requires a study of the environmental consequences of state actions.

The House passed a bill directing Fish and Wildlife to do the study. The bill went nowhere in the Senate, but the House policy survived budget negotiations.

The budget also allocates $80,000 to be split equally between sheriff’s offices in Ferry and Stevens counties for wolf management. Most attacks by wolves on cattle and sheep occur in those two counties.

The counties are dispatching deputies to depredations, even though Fish and Wildlife does the investigations.

Ranchers welcome the involvement of local law officers, Nielsen said.

“I think it will be a tremendously good thing,” he said. “We have confidence in our local sheriffs.”

The Rocky Road to Wolf Recovery

http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/the_rocky_road_to_wolf_recovery/

These apex predators returned to the North Cascades 10 years ago. Are we giving them a fair chance?

Winter is not my favorite season. I lived in Vermont for too many years to get excited about snow, and I don’t like having to brace myself to walk out the front door. But today was different. Today I was on a scientific mission – more of a pilgrimage, really – and the impressive tracks at my feet trumped the raw, westerly breeze biting at my face. Each symmetrical print showed four toes and pronounced claws, like that of a coyote, only much bigger. Maybe a dog out for a walk? I wondered. No, the gait was too steady, the trail too straight. Besides, these paws would put a German shepherd to shame. I smiled at my husband, Robert Long, whose satisfied grin transcended his curiosity as a biologist. We were both relieved the Teanaway wolves had survived their first year.

photo of a wolf track, human hand for comparisonPhoto by Robert LongA wolf track in the snow. This paw would put a German shepherd to shame.

When we relocated to central Washington in 2007, the dry, dusty terrain challenged my sensibilities as a native New Englander. Our new hometown was surrounded by windblown hills that seemed hostile and barren – an inhospitable moonscape of sagebrush and grass. This was the Pacific Northwest, for heaven’s sake; where were the rhododendrons, the drippy mosses, the giant Douglas firs?

Then I discovered Teanaway country, a surprisingly fertile place on the eastern flanks of the Cascade Range. The region’s namesake, the Teanaway River, is a tributary of the Yakima, which in turn flows into the Columbia – the largest river on the continent draining into the Pacific Ocean. Clear as a desert sky and cold enough even in June to make my bones ache during stream crossings, the salmon-supporting waters of the Teanaway are spawned by snowmelt from the adjacent high peaks.

Although the Teanaway valley floor is peppered with homesteads, the abutting forests and alpine meadows are tantalizingly wild. To the north lies a vast stretch of national forest and other public lands crowned by North Cascades National Park. To the south, more national forest – broken by clearcuts and Interstate 90 – and Mount Rainier National Park. All told, the North Cascades Ecosystem, which runs from I-90 to British Columbia, covers an area larger than Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite National Parks combined. Other than the northern Rockies, nowhere else in the contiguous US offers so much room for wide-roaming carnivores. And for people like me who yearn for wilderness.

Robert and I were part of a research team that helped deploy motion-triggered wildlife cameras in the Teanaway in early 2011, soon after evidence of wolves began to surface. Local residents had reported numerous wolf sightings, and volunteers had photographed a large canid during their camera surveys the previous fall. When follow-up efforts yielded images of at least three adult wolves, the Teanaway pack became official. By summer, government biologists had documented an additional four pups.

On this mid-February afternoon, we were visiting the Teanaway to learn more about how the wolves were using their new territory. Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife was monitoring the pack with radio telemetry, but Robert and his graduate student wanted to collect sign on the ground. My own goals were more complicated, reflecting my dual career as a field biologist and a writer.

As the icy logging road crunched beneath my boots, I strived to imagine my surroundings from the perspective of a wolf. Weathered firs and pines dotted the arid slopes, heavily traveled by mule deer and elk. The brushy creek drainage below provided cover for predators and prey alike, while the ridgeline above afforded an expansive, 360-degree view. By late spring, the Teanaway’s meadowlands would be loud with glacier lilies, purple lupines, and exuberant hikers eager to get out on the trails again. But in winter, this was mostly a quiet place. Only the hum of a distant snowmobile reminded me we weren’t alone.

My forward momentum was interrupted when I noticed one of the two sets of tracks we’d been following splitting off to the left. “I can’t resist!” I called out to my companions before heading downslope alone. Soon I found myself jogging alongside the trail of a loping wolf. I was practically giddy as I leapt from print to print imitating the animal’s stride: So THIS is what it’s like to run like a wolf! Until I heard the howl.

I skidded to a halt. Scanning the trees in front of me, I tried to trace the sound to its source, which seemed alarmingly close to where I stood. In my rational mind, I’m far warier of people than wolves, who practically never attack humans. But in the moment, I was reacting from a more primal place, a place where I no longer fancied myself queen of the food chain. As David Quammen wrote in Monster of God: “For as long as Homo sapiens has been sapient – for much longer if you count the evolutionary wisdom stored in our genes – alpha predators have kept us acutely aware of our membership with the natural world.” My genes were reminding me I’m made mostly of meat.

Partway into the second howl, the adrenaline hit me like a double shot of espresso. The wolf was now directly behind me – how could that be? I spun around to face my stalker and was chagrined by what I found. The howls were coming from my own goddamned backpack. My sister was calling me on my cell phone. Her ringtone? A Mexican wolf.

Once I shook off the embarrassment, I couldn’t help but feel elated. With I-90 visible on the horizon, there were wolf tracks next to mine. Robert and I had traveled that very highway across the country less than five years before to start our new life in Washington. At the time, I wouldn’t have believed I could be in the company of wolves today, as they’d been gone from the state for several decades. Suddenly, they were here again – why now, nobody knew. The Teanaway wolves were the second pack to recolonize the Cascades. Genetic tests indicated the Teanaway’s alpha female emerged from the Lookout pack about 100 miles north of us. She was lucky to have gotten away.

photo of a lake in a snowy valleyPhoto courtesy of USGSAs in the rest of the American West, wolves were eradicated from Washington during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Then a decade ago they were spotted again near the North Cascades National Park (pictured above).

Wolves were no more a reality of my early childhood in Boston than were witches, talking tigers, or any of the other make-believe characters I encountered in coloring books and cartoons. Like most kids, I was drawn to animals at the zoo, but the concept of living among them was as foreign to me as the suburbs, where I was ultimately to pass my painful adolescence. Not until moving to Vermont as a young adult did I begin to feel the seduction of wildness, which beckoned me to its loneliness like the open sea beckons a sailor. In Vermont, I discovered the thrill of seeing scars left by black bears on the smooth bark of beeches, of hearing barred owls squawk like howler monkeys at dawn. Still, something was missing. The more I learned about our long lost wild predators, the more our hardwood forests felt tame. Wolves and cougars were gone from the Green Mountains – gone from the entire Northeast. After becoming a professional conservationist, I became involved in efforts to bring them back. But I got tired of chasing ghosts.

Washington has its phantoms, too. Pacific fishers were reintroduced to the Olympic Peninsula and Mount Rainier in recent years but remain absent everywhere else. The fisher’s brawnier cousin, the wolverine – eliminated by trappers by the mid-1900s – has only recently reappeared from the north. Grizzly bears are a ghost story unto themselves, with the last known grizzly in the Cascades legally shot by a hunter in 1967. A few grizzlies inhabit the “Wedge,” a hearty slice of forest sandwiched between the Kettle and Columbia Rivers in the northeast corner of the state. But despite occasional sightings, grizzlies have yet to repopulate the North Cascades (though they are currently the subject of a proposed federal restoration plan).

And then there are the wolves.

As in the rest of the American West, wolves were eradicated from Washington during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – slaughtered for their fur and persecuted for being predators in emerging sheep and cattle country. They were trapped. Shot. Burned. Poisoned. Pursued with such abandon that no den was left unscathed. Most of all, wolves were killed for being wolves.

From 1821 to 1859, nearly 15,000 wolves from the Pacific Northwest lost their hides to four Washington-based trading posts. Only a scattering remained by 1900, and when they were found, they didn’t last long. As many as 5,000 wolves once inhabited the landscape we’ve come to know as Washington. A century after Lewis and Clark reached the West Coast, their howls fell silent.

The story as I know it picked up again with six wolf pups photographed in a forest clearing. Three months old, coated in fuzzy tan and gray, they were all legs and ears and curiosity. Five of the pups explored the world around them. One poked at the grass with its paw, two sniffed the soil next to a stone. Maybe a sibling had peed there, or a bobcat left its mark for the new kids on the block. The sixth pup relaxed, its black-tipped tail and lanky body sprawled lazily across the ground. The pups’ mother and father – the pack alphas – were probably out hunting for food. Life was good at the rendezvous site.

This image, recorded in 2008 by a remote camera east of North Cascades National Park, helped confirm the first breeding wolves known to inhabit Washington since the 1930s. That same week, the pups’ parents were radio-collared by state biologists, who determined the Lookout pack (named after nearby Lookout Mountain) included at least two more animals. The pack’s alpha male was related to wolves in British Columbia. Like the Teanaway’s alpha female, he had ventured south in search of a new home.

photo of wolf pups exploringPhoto courtesy of Conservation NorthwestIn 2008, a remote camera in Methow Valley captured an image of six wolf pups in a forest clearing. Biologists named them the Lookout pack after the nearby Lookout Mountain.

Many Washingtonians gave the Lookout wolves a hero’s welcome, like they were veterans returning from a long-forgotten war. Polls showed that three-quarters of the public supported the return of their top-dog predator, and wildlife officials scrambled to finish a wolf recovery plan for the state. Meanwhile, wolf sightings in northeast Washington increased, with another pack, christened the Diamond pack, confirmed near the Idaho border less than a year after the Lookout wolves made their public debut. But just as we were celebrating a new era for wolves in the Pacific Northwest, the story turned darker.

It was Christmas season, five months after the Lookout alphas were collared. The Federal Express counter in Omak, Washington, was no doubt abuzz with activity. Clerks would have come to work expecting the usual holiday madness as shoppers dropped off gifts for loved ones far afield. But one of the packages didn’t look right. The box was dripping blood.

According to the indictment, police confiscated the package and found a wolf hide inside. The hide once belonged to a member of the Lookout pack. With photos, emails, and other grim evidence, investigators pieced together the illegal killing of several Lookout wolves between May 2008 and January 2009. Three people – a father, his son, and the son’s wife – were charged with the crimes, which took place near their residence in Lookout territory. The pelt in the box was destined for tanning in Canada.

This high-profile case dragged on for years. Finally, in July 2012, the wolf killers were prosecuted, fined, and put on probation. That was the human toll. The wolves, guilty only of choosing the wrong neighborhood for rearing their young, paid a much greater price.

By early 2009, the Lookout pack had been reduced to the alpha male and female and one yearling; the other pups from the photo had perished. Four more pups were born in the spring, but things continued to unravel for the wolves. That fall, an unidentified male wolf was found shot and skinned along Highway 20, the main road through North Cascades National Park. Then, in May 2010, the Lookout pack’s alpha female suspiciously disappeared. She’d been seen pregnant in April, but her pups were also presumed dead. Not surprisingly, the alpha male began to range more widely. Maybe he was looking for his mate. Or maybe he just had to keep moving.

In the spring of 2013, a lactating female wolf was documented in Lookout territory – the first indication of pups there in four years. The pack’s legacy of perseverance was also carried forth in the Teanaway, where a second litter of pups was born in 2012 and a third a year later. In typical wolf fashion, some members of the expanding Teanaway pack dispersed, with one of them helping to establish the Wenatchee pack to the east. Another yearling female roamed farther from home. She was formally known as WA-015F. I’ll call her Lupa.

Iexperienced my first wild wolves during a visit to Yellowstone. As newcomers to the park, Robert and I had joined the caravan of veteran wolf watchers who cruised the Lamar Valley every day. We saw more than a dozen wolves from the road, even witnessed a coyote harass a small female wolf until she squatted to pee and then left the area in what I could only interpret as disgust. But the highlight came late one afternoon when we were driving back to the park’s gateway town of Gardiner.

photo of a wolf in a forestPhoto by Paula MacKayThe author saw her first wild wolf in Yellowstone National Park.

Several cars had pulled over onto the shoulder. Robert jumped out to investigate and soon came sprinting back to get me. “A black wolf – come quick!” he said, grabbing his camera from the front seat. Moments later, peering through my binoculars, I spotted a sleepy black wolf lying on a rock. Downhill, flanked by ravens and magpies, a couple of coyotes were feeding on a dead elk. They had apparently taken the wolf’s place when she’d had her fill, observing her nervously while they ate.

The coyotes abruptly shied off the carcass as a smoky-gray wolf entered the scene. He had a thick, luxurious coat and was wearing a radio-collar. The wolf extracted various organs from the elk, taking particular interest in the shiny red liver. He was highly selective, like a butcher choosing the best cut of meat. Must be the alpha, I thought.

The black wolf began to howl. She had risen to her feet on the boulder, her blood-splattered muzzle lifted high toward the sky. Another wolf accompanied her from behind the rocks, and the two were joined by a third. The alpha male stopped eating. He stepped away from the elk and sauntered uphill to the black wolf before he, too, raised his voice in song. Together, they howled for a full 30 seconds. Not demons. Not demigods. Just wolves.

With modern technology, we can collect heaps of information about wolves. We can even fit them with GPS collars and track their movements from satellites circling the Earth. But despite all of our tools and efforts and knowledge, we will never understand what compelled Lupa to leave her territory one winter’s day.

A month after we tracked the Teanaway wolves in the snow, Lupa had life-or-death choices to make. She could head south, across the formidable I-90 and toward Mount Rainier, into what was considered some of the best vacant wolf habitat in the state. She could travel east or west, but either would bring her closer to people and farther from potential mates. Or she could go north – far north – toward a place with more wolves. And that’s what she did.

Data from Lupa’s GPS collar indicate her journey went something like this:

After leaving the Teanaway, Lupa eventually reached the edge of Lake Chelan – the third-deepest lake in the country – and plunged into its frigid waters. She continued north when she emerged on the other side, passing just east of Lookout territory. At some point, Lupa crossed the Canadian border and entered British Columbia’s Okanogan Valley, where she traversed the scenic Crowsnest Highway. She then skirted Okanagan Lake before heading northeast and swimming again, this time across the Columbia River. Finally, she turned back toward the south – thus sealing her fate.

Lupa traveled some 575 miles in 2 months, only to be shot by a farmer north of Kootenay Lake in British Colombia. A spokesman for the US Fish & Wildlife Service said her skin would be used in an educational display to teach people about wolves.

Although Lupa’s voyage was remarkable by human standards, it wasn’t unusual for a wolf. Reports of long-distance dispersals are becoming increasingly common given advances in tracking equipment. In 2009, a yearling female from Yellowstone traveled 3,000 miles in 6 months before she was illegally poisoned in Colorado. Another wolf, dubbed OR-7 – born in northeast Oregon also in 2009 – left his natal pack in September 2011, crossed numerous highways and Oregon’s Klamath River, and arrived in northern California just before the new year. There hadn’t been a wolf confirmed in that state since 1924. Unlike Lupa and the Yellowstone female, OR-7 is still on the move.

Young wolves, like people, disperse to find new territory and potential mates. But a lone wolf is a vulnerable wolf, and traveling in today’s crowded world can have lethal consequences – as Lupa discovered when she chose to go north in search of who knows what. There’s no doubt she was on a mission. Mountains couldn’t stop her. Water couldn’t stop her. Political boundaries couldn’t stop her. Not even highways could stop her. There was but one insurmountable barrier between where she was and where she wanted to be. It looked a lot like you and me.

The purpose of Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is to “ensure a self-sustaining population of gray wolves in the state and to encourage social tolerance for the species by reducing and addressing conflicts.”  There is a widely held assumption among management agencies that killing wolves accused of preying on livestock promotes tolerance among ranchers. Whether or not this assumption is valid is a matter of heated debate in the conservation community. Research suggests government-sanctioned killing may actually convey that wolves don’t have value, thereby serving to decrease the acceptance of wolves.

photo of a wolf on a hillPhoto by Western Transportation InstituteA lone wolf from the Teanaway pack.Some scientists have questioned the extermination of wolves as a means to reducing human-wolf conflicts.

Some scientists have questioned the extermination of wolves as a means to reducing human-wolf conflicts. Wolf packs are highly social entities whose members each play a role in helping the family survive. Wolves that are protected from hunters and poachers – like those living in Yellowstone – tend to form complex, intergenerational groups led by a breeding pair (usually the alphas) and accompanied by young pups and animals born in previous years. More experienced wolves teach younger ones how to hunt wild prey and stay out of trouble; without the leadership of elders, packs fall apart.

Only a few years passed before Washington’s recuperating wolf population tested the limits of human tolerance. In 2012, state fish and wildlife officials gunned down a total of 7 wolves in the Wedge, where 16 cows had allegedly been injured or killed by wolves. The ranchers involved wanted the wolves gone, and so it would be. One by one, members of the Wedge pack were “lethally removed” by aerial sharpshooters.

I can’t erase the scene I’ve conjured in my head. The wolf hears the helicopter before he sees it. He’s running fast, but can’t seem to shake the shadow of the noisy machine overhead. A man hangs out the door looking for a clean shot. He’s weary, too, as they’ve killed five wolves in the past two days. The wolf glances up at the helicopter one last time, his pace beginning to slow. He hears the bullet at about the same time that he feels it. Legs spin out from under him and he rolls head over tail before coming to his final resting place. The alpha male – the leader of the Wedge pack – is dead. He’s the last known family member to die.

The rugged, heavily wooded terrain of the Wedge is a notoriously challenging place to raise cows. I imagine it’s also a difficult place to avoid cows if you’re a wolf. Although most wolves never develop a taste for livestock, attacks on cattle are likely to happen once in a while when they share wild country. The fact that wolf depredation doesn’t occur more often is a testament to the wolves’ restraint (consider how most people behave at an all-you-can eat buffet). According to the US Department of Agriculture’s (2011) Cattle Death Loss report, 5.5 percent of cattle losses in the US are attributed to predators, and wolves statistically fall well below coyotes, cougars, dogs, and even vultures as a documented cause of death. The same report indicates that the vast majority of cattle succumb to health-related issues and bad weather. Beyond the slaughterhouse, that is.

Wolves are wild wanderers. That’s how they live and that’s how they die – too often at the hands of humans. But are wolves truly wild if they’re not allowed to roam free, or if they’re penalized for ignoring abstract human boundaries? Beginning with the Wedge pack in 2012, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has killed a total of 18 “problem” wolves in Washington since wolves returned to the region – 15 of these on behalf of the same cattle operation. I know there are no simple answers when it comes to co-existing with large carnivores; if there were, we presumably wouldn’t have eradicated them to begin with. I only wish we would ask harder questions of ourselves than we do of the wolves, who are giving us a second chance to act as peaceful neighbors.

To be sure, there are reasons for hope in Washington. Wildlife officials currently report 20 wolf packs residing in the state, and wolves continue to recolonize their former habitat. Numerous ranches have employed range riders and other non-lethal strategies for reducing conflicts with wolves, who have now re-established themselves in the Wedge. On I-90, wildlife bridges and underpasses are being constructed to facilitate the north-south movement of animals through the Cascades; it’s only a matter of time before wolves will make their way further into human-dominated landscapes. When they do, will we have the courage to let wolves be wolves?

Late summer now, and Robert and I are camped with another biologist in the backcountry of North Cascades National Park. We’re searching for grizzly bears on this trip, but our colleague has a different predator on his mind as we prepare to sit down for dinner. He walks over to a rocky outcrop and gazes into the darkening basin below. After cupping his hands around his nose and mouth, he releases a spot-on wolf song that penetrates the mountain stillness and echoes through the valley. The mere possibility that wolves could be out there listening brings wildness to this place. In the emptiness that follows, I wait, willing the night to answer.

Gray wolf in Loup Loup pack gets new GPS collar from WDFW

By Ann McCreary

State wildlife officials replaced a GPS collar on a gray wolf in the Loup Loup pack earlier this month as part of an ongoing effort by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to monitor and study wolves throughout Washington.

Using a helicopter on Feb. 8, WDFW biologists darted the Loup Loup pack wolf with an immobilizing drug in order to capture him. They replaced a collar that was placed on the wolf in 2016 with a new GPS collar, said Ben Maletzke, statewide wolf specialist for WDFW.

The captured wolf is the breeding male of the Loup Loup pack, and was seen with the pack’s breeding female, which also has a collar. No other Loup Loup pack wolves were spotted, Maletzke said.

The male was examined, and his health was evaluated by biologists. “He was an older male, getting up in years. He seemed to be doing OK, a little bit underweight,” Maletzke said. A wolf his size would be expected to weigh 95-100 pounds, but the wolf was 89 pounds.

The Loup Loup pack wolves were located through signals emitted by their collars. Because the male’s collar was almost 2 years old, the battery was likely to die before long. “We wanted to get that one switched out,” Maletzke said.

Biologists had also hoped to collar a wolf in the Lookout pack, which currently has no collared animals, but were not successful in locating any wolves. “We had a ground crew that found a track from the previous day, but the day of the flight we weren’t able to find them,” Maletzke said.

Placing collars on wolves helps wildlife managers keep track of wolf packs throughout the state, Maletzke said. In the case of the Loup Loup pack, the collars are also essential for an ongoing research project conducted by WDFW and the University of Washington that is examining how the presence of wolves affects other wildlife species. “This pack overlaps the research project,” Maletzke said.

The GPS collar on the Loup Loup male can be programmed to provide location data remotely via satellite several times a day. The female of the Loup Loup pack wears a VHS collar, which has a longer lifespan, and emits a signal that is located using a receiver and antennae.

Maletzke said he is gathering data for the state’s annual status report on wolf packs in Washington, which is usually released in March. Last year’s report, which surveyed the 2016 wolf population, estimated that there were 20 packs in Washington that year. The report estimated that the Loup Loup pack had up to eight wolves at the end of 2016, and the Lookout pack had three members. 

The Lookout Pack, named for Lookout Mountain, was first documented in 2008 and was the first wolf pack found in Washington in more than 30 years.

The pack had up to 10 members in 2008, but over the next year the pack was decimated by poaching, until only the breeding pair and one yearling survived in 2009. The breeding pair, which had been collared in 2008, had both disappeared by 2011.

Gray wolves, virtually eliminated from western states in the last century, are protected under state law as an endangered species throughout Washington and are managed under a state recovery plan. They are listed as endangered under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state, which includes the Methow Valley.

Washington rancher shot wolf thinking it may be dog

A recently released report describes Washington’s second case of a rancher lawfully shooting a wolf attacking cattle

Don JenkinsCapital Press

A Washington rancher who killed a wolf in October told investigators that he thought he might have been shooting a dog, according to a Department of Fish and Wildlife report.

The rancher found the carcass, realized it was a wolf and called authorities. WDFW investigators concluded the shooting was justified because the wolf, an adult female, was chasing a calf.

The shooting, Oct. 27 near the Canadian border in Ferry County, was Washington’s second case of a rancher lawfully killing a wolf under the state’s “caught-in-the-act” law.

WDFW released a redacted copy of the investigative report in response to a public records request from the Capital Press. The name of the ranchers, a man and woman, were withheld by the department and were referred to in the report as “Producer M” and “Producer F.”

The shooting was not an isolated event in northern Ferry County as ranchers moved cattle from public grazing grounds to private pastures in the fall. Within two weeks of the shooting, at least two other calves were attacked by wolves fewer than 3 miles away.

The shooting and depredations occurred outside the range of any documented pack, according to WDFW. Ferry County rancher Arron Scotten, whose cattle were not involved in the incidents, said there had been signs of wolves in the area that fall.

“I think it was all one group that was there,” said Scotten, who was contracted by WDFW as a range rider to look for wolves and patrol around cattle.

“You ended up with (pack) members right there and cattle right there,” he said. “I’m not sure what really could have been done differently.”

The shooting occurred in the late afternoon as the man and woman were hauling cattle from a grazing allotment to a large fenced pasture. The woman told an investigator that she saw what she thought was a bear chasing a calf in the pasture.

Since she had a tag to harvest a bear, the woman aimed a rifle, looked through the scope, saw it wasn’t a bear and handed the gun to the man, who saw a dark-colored canine and shot, according to the report.

The animal went down, got up, veered from the calf and tumbled downhill. “Producer M said they had been seeing a large black/brown domestic dog running loose in the area recently, and they thought it might have been that dog as it looked similar to it from their location,” the WDFW report states.

The ranchers did not find any dead or injured cattle. The cattle were bunched near the pasture’s entrance. WDFW investigators said the wolf was shot once and that the evidence at the scene matched the ranchers’ description of events.

A separate livestock producer in the area reported an injured calf Nov. 2. Another calf was found dead Nov. 8. Scotten said range-rider patrols, particularly at night, were increased.

WDFW also ruled that a ranch employee was justified in shooting a wolf June 30 in Stevens County.

Washington law allows shooting one wolf attacking livestock. The law applies in the eastern one-third of Washington, where wolves are not federally protected. Under state law, illegally shooting a wolf is a gross misdemeanor and punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Report: Wolf Population Increase Not Hurting Deer Numbers

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/washington/articles/2017-12-08/report-wolf-population-increase-not-hurting-deer-numbers

A new report by Washington state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has concluded that the growing population of wolves is not hurting populations of deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep.

Dec. 8, 2017, at 3:01 p.m.

The Associated Press

FILE – This March 13, 2014 file photo provided by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shows a female wolf from the Minam pack outside La Grande, Ore., after it was fitted with a tracking collar. The growing population of wolves in eastern Washington state does not appear to be hurting the populations of deer, elk and other ungulates according to a report issued this week by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife via AP, File) The Associated Press

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The growing population of wolves in eastern Washington state does not appear to be hurting the populations of deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep, according to a report issued this week by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The agency in 2015-2017 studied the populations of those animals, known as ungulates, that are hunted by wolves and found that none “in this assessment appear to show clear signs of being limited by predation,” the report concluded.

Gray wolves were hunted to extinction in Washington in the early 20th century. But the animals started migrating into the state in the early 2000s from Idaho and Canada. The first wolf pack was documented by the department in 2008.

At the end of 2016, the state estimated there were a minimum of 115 wolves, 20 packs and 10 successful breeding pairs in the state. All of the documented wolf packs are east of the Cascade Range.

There have been numerous conflicts between wolves and livestock in recent years, and the state has killed 18 problem wolves since 2012, drawing sharp criticism from environmental groups.

Wolves are listed as endangered by the state in the eastern third of Washington and have federal endangered species protection in the western two-thirds of the state.

The study used population estimates obtained from aerial surveys, plus the number of ungulates harvested by hunters, the agency said. State officials have also launched a more comprehensive, multi-year study of the impact of wolves on ungulates.

The agency defined an at-risk ungulate population as one that falls 25 percent below its population objective for two consecutive years, or one in which the harvest decreases by 25 percent below the 10-year average harvest rate for two consecutive years.

The report showed that initial fears that wolves would wipe out wild ungulates were unfounded, said Amaroq Weiss, who works on wolf recovery issues for the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona-based nonprofit group that focuses on protecting endangered species.

“Any hue and cry over negative predation impacts on elk herds in Washington with the return of wolves to the state is without merit,” she said. “The majority of mortality to elk in the state is human-caused.”

Sarah Ryan, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said ranchers support healthy populations of wild animals for wolves to hunt, she said.

“We need a robust population of ungulates so wolves will have something to snack on beyond cattle,” Ryan said, adding that she has not seen the study.

Washington state’s ungulate populations also include mountain goats and pronghorn, but they don’t usually live where the state’s wolves hunt.

As Northwest States Kill Wolves, Researchers Cast Doubt On Whether It Works

http://kuow.org/post/northwest-states-kill-wolves-researchers-cast-doubt-whether-it-works

  NOV 25, 2017
Originally published on November 27, 2017 2:53 pm

The long hunt finally paid off on the night of Aug. 6 for two employees of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. They’d spent a combined 85 hours and driven 752 miles in pursuit of the Harl Butte wolf pack in the northeast corner of the state.

They had already come close, spotting wolves twice but never firing a shot.

But finally, on a Saturday evening, they killed a young male. Two days later, an Oregon Fish and Wildlife employee fired a kill shot from a helicopter while patrolling the rolling forests and pastures. This time it was a young female.

The wolf-killing mission was meant to halt a pack that was helping itself to ranchers’ livestock.

It won’t work, thought Todd Nash. He and other local ranchers wanted the whole pack gone.

“If there was a gang in downtown Portland and there was 13 of them and you randomly took two, you didn’t know if they were the ringleaders or what they were … would you expect to have a positive outcome?” Nash said.

It turned out Nash was right; it didn’t work.

Weeks later, some of the Harl Butte pack’s surviving wolves tore into a 450-pound calf. It was found dead in a pasture Nash leases, with bite marks across its legs, flanks and hocks.

So Oregon wildlife officials killed two more wolves. Weeks later, they said the depredations had stopped.

They hadn’t. The Harl Butte pack struck again in late September, killing a 425-pound calf.

As the number of wolves in Oregon and Washington has grown, wildlife managers are increasingly turning toward lethal tactics to keep them away from ranchers’ livestock. State governments in the Northwest now spend tens of thousands of dollars to kill wolves that prey on cattle and sheep.

State wolf managers are walking a tightrope: growing and sustaining a population of wolves while limiting the loss of livestock for the ranchers who make their living where the predators now roam.

Managing wolves in the West is as much about politics, economics and emotion as it is about science.

“Sometimes you view it as being between a rock and a hard place, or being yelled at from both sides,” said Derek Broman, carnivore and furbearer coordinator for Oregon Fish and Wildlife. “I like to say it’s balance.”

To balance the costs of killing wolves, ecological needs and the concerns of ranchers and wolf advocates, it’s the policy of both Oregon and Washington to kill wolves incrementally — starting with one or two at a time. But in making that compromise between preserving wolves and preventing livestock damage, they’ve taken a course of action that scientific evidence suggests could achieve neither.

Policies and practices in both states go against a growing body of research casting doubt on the overall effectiveness of killing predators.

Neither state follows recent recommendations from top researchers that their efforts to control predators be conducted as well-designed scientific studies. And neither follows the primary recommendation from the research most often used as evidence, which found killing most or all of a pack is the most effective form of “lethal control” to reduce ranchers’ damages.

Instead, some scientists and advocates say, Oregon and Washington are risking harm to the Northwest’s wolf population without ever reducing predation on cattle and sheep.

“Oregon and Washington may be playing with fire in their incremental control approach,” said professor Adrian Treves, who founded the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at the University of Wisconsin. “Not only is there very little evidence for the effectiveness of lethal methods, but there are more studies that find counterproductive effects of lethal control, namely that you get higher livestock losses afterward.”

Northwest wildlife managers say they use lethal control, in part, to increase people’s willingness to tolerate wolves. Treves said there’s little data to support that it’s actually helping shape public opinion to accept wolf reintroduction. In fact, Treves has published research suggesting otherwise: that government-sanctioned killing of wolves may actually embolden individuals to illegally do the same.

Policies under scrutiny

He and others have called on governments to re-evaluate their predator control policies. Treves was also one of multiple scientists who filed comments with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, saying his research and others’ had been misinterpreted in the state’s revision of its wolf management plan, which Treves and others criticized for being biased in favor of lethal control.

“It’s just like (when) the government is putting a medicine out there; it needs to prove the medicine is effective,” Treves said. “ Because there are costs. And not just financial. Animals are dying.”

Lethal control policies in both Oregon and Washington are getting pushback from wolf advocates.

In Oregon, multiple groups have called on Gov. Kate Brown’s office to intervene. The governor’s office has not publicly responded and did not respond to requests for comment.

In Washington, two environmental groups filed a lawsuit in September claiming the state’s approach to killing wolves is unnecessary and that its protocols do not satisfy Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act.

Donny Martorello, wolf coordinator for Washington Fish and Wildlife, said the state has seen mixed results with lethal control.

“We’ve had situations where we’ve initiated lethal removal and had to stay with it for quite a period of time. Removing more and more wolves because the conflict kept going and going and going,” he said. In other cases, he said, it seemed to reduce the conflict.

Martorello said the decision to kill wolves to is not about decreasing long-term livestock losses. It’s about intervening in an escalating situation, where prevention has failed and a rancher’s cattle or sheep are dying.

“We turn to lethal removal as a last resort,” Martorello said. “When we remove wolves it is trying to change the behavior of wolves in that period of time. We can’t extend that to say that will prevent negative wolf-livestock interactions in the long term. Because it doesn’t.”

In its lethal control protocol, WDFW cites a paper from Michigan saying the “the act of attempting to lethally remove wolves may result in meeting the goal of changing the behavior of the pack.”

However, that study’s authors do not make claims about changing behavior, and attribute any lower recurrence of attacks on livestock to the increase in human activity nearby — not anything specific to lethal control.

That study also  found no correlation between killing a high number of wolves and a reduction in livestock depredation the following year.

Instead, it found the opposite: “Our analyses of localized farm clusters showed that as more wolves were killed one year, the depredations increased the following year.”

Ranchers say lethal is needed

In mid-October, Nash was hauling bags of mineral feed to where his cattle graze in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. He kept stopping along the snowy road.

“That right there is a wolf track,” he said, hopping out for a closer inspection.  He spotted another smaller set next to them. “That looks like a pup.”

They were fresh and led toward cattle.

Nearby, a state biologist and the local range rider were doing the same. From time to time, Nash checked in and shared what he knew.

“There’s tracks going both ways,” he tells them. “These were smokin’ fresh.”

In Oregon, like in Washington, wildlife managers only kill wolves if demonstrated non-lethal efforts to deter wolves have failed. Those preventative measures have been adopted inconsistently, and with mixed reviews. Many say they’ve seen improvements by removing bone piles that attract wolves and by increasing human presence. Here, Nash said he’s had someone in the pasture nearly every day, including his own cowboys, a county range rider and a friend he hired to camp nearby.

Cattle die for many reasons on the open range. Wolves account for only a fraction of ranchers’ losses, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. In the Northwest, documented kills by wolves amount to a few dozen per year in a region with more than two million cattle.

But for an individual producer, wolf damage can be a devastating blow. Especially when it’s on top of added stress and added costs of preventing wolf attacks.

Turning cattle out to roam after a long winter used to be a time to relax and celebrate, Nash said.

“You’d go, ‘oh, this is so nice,’” he said. “And now, that’s been taken away from us. I’m sad about that.”

This past summer’s wolf killings are in the same area where Oregon officials previously killed four members of the Imnaha pack. Nash said killing wolves from the Imnaha pack bought ranchers temporary relief from the predators. But, eventually, a new pack moved in.

After a few hours on snowy roads in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Nash had no wolves in his sights. He decided to head home.

“I’m a little disappointed,” he said, patting a black bolt-action rifle resting beside the driver’s seat of his pickup. “I’m definitely nervous. You see how close they are to the cattle.”

In most Western states where wolves live,  ranchers can submit claims for financial compensation for cattle killed by wolves. But Nash said that’s a poor substitute for losing one of the cows or calves he takes pride in and cares for.

“We’ll take the no wolves over compensation any day, given the choice,” Nash said. “It’s not in us to allow our cattle to be killed. It’s an act that’s contrary to everything we do.”

Lethal control has broad support from farmers and ranchers. It’s seen as a crucial tool to protect livestock. Government killing of predators is common worldwide — from wolves, cougars and coyotes in the American West to dingos in the Australian Outback. In the United States, the federal government’s Wildlife Services agency has killed more than two million mammals since 2000.

In the dark on what works

“It’s not fair to our farmers,” said Australia-based scientist Lily Van Eden, who published a paper on the subject in 2017.

Examining past studies of the various techniques used to control predators, Van Eden found wide swings in results. That includes two studies of lethal control and one of guardian dogs that all showed increases in livestock losses.

Van Eden’s paper was one of four published in the past two years examining the current landscape of predator control research.

Each team reached the same conclusion: there is not sufficient evidence to say if and when killing large carnivores, such as wolves, actually achieves the desired result of reducing the loss of cattle or sheep. The same can be said for most non-lethal techniques.

Much of the research into the topic of both lethal and non-lethal predator control is flawed in one way or another. Of the research that does exists, more studies showed lethal control efforts to be ineffective or counterproductive at reducing ranchers’ losses.

Without gold-standard research on the subject, existing data can be used to justify opposing positions.

Take, for instance, a study published in 2014 led by Washington State University professor Robert Wielgus. It used data from the wolf population in Rocky Mountain states. The study showed livestock lost to wolves actually increased after some wolves were killed. It was criticized for not adequately accounting for changes over time. A University of Washington team re-analyzed the data and published essentially the opposite finding, only to be criticized for over-correcting and making their own statistical errors.

Exactly how killing wolves could lead to an increase in depredations is not well understood. But there are several possible factors: Removing a pack could allow new wolves to move in, creating disruptions and unusual foraging techniques. Removing part of the pack could displace the remaining wolves to neighboring farms or pastures, who then prey on livestock. Or the pack could be weakened, limiting its ability to successfully hunt its natural prey of elk and deer.

“The information out there is not conclusive,” said the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Broman. “It’s still kind of an early discipline. We look at what pieces of that information are most applicable here and what could potentially work.”

Avoiding the all-or-nothing approach

That paper’s findings do not wholly endorse what Oregon and Washington are doing when they kill only one or two wolves at a time.

“There wasn’t very much gained by such a small partial pack removal. You gain about two months,” Bradley said.

The study concluded killing one or two wolves from a pack meant an average of about two months until the next wolf kill. With no action taken, that time between wolf attacks was a little less than a month. That’s a marginal difference compared to eliminating the full wolf pack, which resulted in an average of about two years until the next wolf attack. Ranchers like Todd Nash say this is a good reason to favor full pack removal.

Bradley acknowledged removing a full wolf pack isn’t always an option. But if you’re going to kill only one or two members of the pack, she found, it has to be within a week to be most effective. Bradley said her study wasn’t intended to endorse or condemn killing wolves but rather to offer guidance on how to be most effective.

Exactly why, she doesn’t know. But she suspects it increases the likelihood of shooting the culprit wolf.

Washington officials say they aim to respond within two weeks after a depredation. Oregon’s last two state-sanctioned wolf killings were carried out 10 days and 19 days, respectively, after a depredation.

These wolf attacks on livestock often happen in remote areas and go undiscovered for stretches of time. Responding within a week might not always be an option.

“If you don’t do it within the first week or two weeks, then you probably shouldn’t bother,” Bradley said. “After that, we found there was no difference.”

ODFW’s Broman said Oregon is testing out unproven methods like incremental pack killing because it doesn’t want an all-or-nothing approach.

“We’re seeing if it works. It’s still a test to see what we’re looking for,” Broman said. “If you went exclusively by Bradley, you’d either do nothing or full pack removal. Full pack removal is very difficult.”

The problem with non-lethal, and finding a better way

Wolf advocates have pushed non-lethal alternatives to killing wolves to reduce livestock depredations. They advocate techniques like hazing wolves, fencing off cattle or using guard dogs. But there’s also a lack of evidence on those. And they’re also expensive and time consuming for ranchers.

A recent study done in Idaho by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Defenders of Wildlife yielded promising results for non-lethal techniques. Over seven years, researchers found the rate of sheep losses due to wolves was 3.5 times lower in an area where they used only non-lethal techniques, compared to an area open to lethal control. That was in rugged, remote pastures where non-lethal techniques were used.

That was a designed study with funding from conservation groups, the federal government and private donors. The study included field technicians who could help pen sheep at night and employ other wolf deterrents. The study’s author, Suzanne Stone of Defenders of Wildlife, said those non-lethal methods cost less money than Wildlife Services spent on killing wolves in nearby pastures. And those same methods are being used as part of a non-lethal program covering 10,000 sheep grazing across an area of nearly 1,000 square miles.

Most ranchers don’t have the time or manpower to do what that study did, said Julie Young, a researcher for the government’s Wildlife Services.

Young has been working on how to adapt non-lethal practices for widespread adoption.

“Maybe there’s a happy medium,” she said. “We’re going to do these things, but we actually want to measure it as we’re doing it, so we can know if this program we’re investing time or money or resources in is cost-effective or effective at all.”

She said programs like lethal control and compensation for non-lethal measures, including the ones used in Oregon and Washington, are ripe for study.

“We need better data,” Young said. “Otherwise we’re going to also lose trust, if we just start pushing tools on people and they don’t work.”

Copyright 2017 EarthFix. To see more, visit EarthFix.

Coexistence between wolves and livestock is a delusion

http://www.hcn.org/articles/opinion-coexistence-between-wolves-and-livestock-is-a-delusion?utm_source=wcn1&utm_medium=email

When it comes to public lands, native wolves should get preference.

 


It is a popular notion among some conservationists that the way to win acceptance for predators like wolves is to work with rural communities and ranchers. Gaining their support certainly helps wildlife managers justify killing packs or individual wolves whenever they prey on cattle.

But these control tactics have limited application. At best, they reduce conflicts in targeted areas and have no significant effect on the distribution or survival of native predators. At worst, they add to the delusion that widespread co-existence between predators and livestock is possible.

The killing of seven members of the Profanity Peak pack in Washington illustrates how a wolf pack paid the ultimate price for merely trying to eke out a living in a place where unfenced domestic livestock had been released to graze.

Hundreds of cattle were released on the allotment, and salt blocks used by cattle were placed near the den site. That led to wolf depredation on cattle followed by the killing of pack members. (More on the Profanity Peak pack here.)

A growing body of scientific research now shows that killing problem wolves often begets yet more conflicts. Whether the killing is done to protect livestock or for “sport” by hunters, it tends to skew wolf populations towards younger animals less skilled at hunting. Loss of individual pack members can also result in changes in a pack’s ability to hold a territory, pushing the animals into new areas where they are less familiar with native prey. Both outcomes often lead to livestock getting killed by wolves.

Even “predator-friendly” operations harm native wildlife. When ranchers use noisemakers like boat horns or firecrackers, shoot at predators to scare them, or otherwise harass wolves and other predators, this hounding and stressing of our wildlife is considered legitimate. But why should conservation organizations pay for range riders or organize volunteers to harass public animals like wolves to protect someone’s private livestock?

The gray wolf is protected as endangered and threatened in some states, and considered a keystone species.

In effect, these groups are saying that wolves, coyotes and other native wildlife do not have a “right” to live on public lands that are being exploited by ranchers. Cows, not native to the West, have preference.

If I were to harass elk on a winter range, force bald eagles away from their nests or in other ways harass our wildlife, I would likely risk a fine. If I were to go out into the midst of a herd of sheep grazing on public lands and start shooting guns or firing off firecrackers to stampede the herd, I would risk imprisonment. But when it comes to harrying wolves, somehow this kind of harassment has become legitimate.

The negative impacts of livestock on our native wildlife go even further than harassment or lethal control — something that none of the “collaborative” groups ever mention to their membership or the press. Just the mere presence of domestic livestock often results in the social displacement and abandonment of the area by native ungulates such as elk.

If one assumes that elk select the best habitat for their needs, then displacement to other lands reduces their overall fitness. And we cannot forget that on many public lands, the vast majority of forage is reserved and allotted to domestic livestock, leaving only the leftovers for native wildlife.

If we assume that one of the limiting factors for native wildlife is high-quality forage, and that less nutritious feed means fewer elk, deer and bighorns, then we are literally taking food out of the mouth of our native predators.

When there is a conflict between private livestock grazing public lands and the public’s native wildlife, such as grizzlies, coyotes and wolves, just which animals should be removed? That is a question that “collaboratives” never ask. It is always assumed that if predators are causing problems for ranchers, the predators, not the livestock, should go.

This assumption adds up to direct and indirect subsidies for the livestock industry. As long as the dominant paradigm is that a rancher’s livestock has priority on public lands, we will never fully restore native predators to our lands. That is why we need to reframe the narrative and recognize that domestic livestock are the “problem” for our native wildlife.

Next time one of these collaboration groups asks for your money, consider giving your funds elsewhere. Look for organizations that challenge the dominance of livestock on public lands through grazing allotment buyouts or that promote the notion that public predators have priority on our public lands.

Lawsuit claims WDFW is not following proper protocols

Photo courtesy Western Wildlife Conservation
A Smackout Pack gray wolf, photographed by a wildlife camera.

By Ann McCreary

Two conservation groups have filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and its director, James Unsworth, from killing any more gray wolves, which are listed as an endangered species by the state.

The suit, filed Sept. 25 on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands, asserts that WDFW’s killing of wolves from the Smackout and Sherman packs in northeastern Washington relied upon a faulty protocol and failed to undergo required environmental analysis. The suit was filed in the Superior Court of Washington for Thurston County.

“We can’t sit by and watch Washington wildlife officials kill more wolves from the state’s small and recovering wolf population,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Washingtonians overwhelmingly want wolves recovered, not killed. The Department of Fish and Wildlife needs to listen to public opinion and consider the dire environmental costs of killing more wolves.”

In June of this year, Fish and Wildlife officials adopted a revised “wolf-livestock interaction protocol” for determining when to kill wolves in response to livestock conflicts. The protocol provided for the state to kill wolves more quickly than in prior years. The lawsuit states that the protocol was adopted without any public input or environmental review, in violation of the state’s Environmental Policy and Administrative Procedure Acts.

“Reasonable minds can differ on when we should and should not be killing wolves, and whether the killing of the wolves in these two packs was justified,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “But there is no question that we should be fully analyzing the efficacy of these actions, welcoming public and scientific input, and be able to hold the state accountable. This is a state agency spending taxpayer dollars.”

The department has since relied on the protocol to order killing of wolves from two packs, with two wolves from the Smackout pack and one wolf from the Sherman pack killed to date. At the time of the Sherman pack kill order, only two wolves could be confirmed as comprising the pack, one of which the department has now killed. The department has temporarily paused killing wolves from both packs, but will resume if there are more livestock losses.

“Overall, since 2012, the state has killed 18 state-endangered wolves, nearly 16 percent of the state’s current confirmed population of 115 wolves. Fifteen of the wolves killed since 2012 were killed on behalf of the same livestock owner,” said Weiss. “Those kills have now led to the near eradication of three entire wolf packs, including the Profanity Peak pack last year, and the Wedge pack in 2012. The rancher in question has been a vocal opponent of wolf recovery and has historically refused to implement meaningful nonlethal measures designed to protect his livestock from wolves,” Weiss said.

Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. The animals began to return from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s, and their population has grown to 20 confirmed packs as of the end of 2016.

Wolf recovery in Washington is still a work in progress, Weiss said. “Wolves remain absent from large areas of the state and although the population has been growing, it remains small and vulnerable. Given the continued endangered status of wolves, the state and livestock operators should stick to nonlethal methods as the sole means for reducing loss of livestock to wolves,” she said.

“We appreciate that many livestock owners already are using nonlethal methods,” said Weiss, “since the science shows such methods are more effective anyway.”

Plaintiffs are represented in the case by attorneys from the law firm Lane Powell.

Washington State Ends Wolf Killing After 2 Months Without Cattle Attac

http://www.opb.org/news/article/washington-wolf-killing-smackout-pack-livestock-attacks/#.Wc0-apZmVZ8.facebook
by AP AP | Sept. 27, 2017 7:45 a.m. | Olympia, Washington
Washington officials have ended efforts to kill members of the state’s Smackout pack after two months without a documented livestock attack.
Washington officials have ended efforts to kill members of the state’s Smackout pack after two months without a documented livestock attack.

John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says efforts to kill members of a wolf pack north of Spokane have ended.
The agency said Tuesday that wolves from the Smackout pack have shown no signs of preying on livestock in Stevens County since July when state wildlife managers trapped and killed two of its members.

Agency wolf manager Donny Martorello says the wolves killed were a 30-pound female and a 70-pound female.

Martorello says officials took that action after documenting four instances of predation on livestock over 10 months. He says under their wolf-removal protocol, the pattern of predation on calves belonging to three ranchers met the threshold for lethal removal.

He says their goal was to change the pack’s behavior and that the break in wolf attacks on livestock is consistent with the desired outcome.