ENDANGERED SPECIES -- A northeastern Washington wolf pack that’s acquired a taste for sheep could get a taste of lethal force.
A rancher and state wildlife officials herding 1,800 sheep away from the site of recent wolf attacks in southern Stevens County received the OK Wednesday to shoot wolves that approach the flock.
Gray wolves are protected by state endangered species laws except in cases where they threaten people or livestock.
The Huckleberry Pack has continued to kill sheep this week despite four guard dogs, a range rider, the livestock owner’s crew and state officials working day and night to protect the sheep, said Donny Martorello, Fish and Wildlife Department carnivore manager.
Department Director Phil Anderson authorized livestock owner Dave Dashiell of Hunters and his helpers to use limited lethal measures to avoid additional attacks. They cannot actively hunt or attempt to bait the wolves for shooting, he said.
Wildlife officials have confirmed that wolves killed 16 sheep in four separate incidents on since Aug. 14 on leased Hancock timber company land near Hunters.
A confirmed wolf-killed sheep was found Tuesday followed by another on Tuesday night, Martorello said. “We’re doing everything we can to patrol and run interference,” he said.
- The range rider was having trouble getting keys to locked gates from the Hancock timber company in order to move camps to more strategic areas where there's water for the horses, Martorello confirmed.
Signals from a radio collar attached to a male wolf in the pack show the animal was at the site, likely with other pack members, when the attacks occurred, said Nate Pamplin, the department’s wildlife program director.
A total of 14 sheep were killed last week in two incidents. Before that, nine other sheep were found dead in the area but their deaths couldn’t be confirmed as wolf kills.
The rancher is moving the sheep each day and the state is trying to help him find alternative pasture. “We have leads on places but nothing for sure, yet,” Martorello said.
The Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association has criticized the state for not giving Dashiell radio collar information this spring that would have indicated the operator was planning to pasture sheep near the Huckleberry Pack’s denning area.
Martorello said the wolf had been trapped and collared by the Spokane Indian Tribe under an agreement not to share the location of the wolf. Since the attacks, the tribe is allowing the location of the collared wolf to be shared, he said.
The Huckleberry Pack, one of about a dozen confirmed packs in Washington, has six to 12 members. The pack has not been associated with livestock kills until last week.
The events are reminiscent of the 2012 wolf attacks on cattle in northern Stevens County that didn’t end until the state was forced to use helicopter gunners to kill all seven members of the Wedge Pack.
Fish and Wildlife officials reported spending $76,500 to end the pack’s livestock attacks but not before at least 17 calves had been lost, mostly on private land managed by Diamond M Ranch.
Dashiell has four large guard dogs and camps alongside his flock at night, Pamplin said. “Yet, the attacks have continued, even after the department sent four members of our wildlife-conflict staff and an experienced range-rider to help guard the sheep and begin moving them out of the area.”
- The dogs are crosses of the standard sheepdog breeds: Marema, Akbash and Pyrenees. The Dashiells report that one of the dogs has two large canine bites in one of his rear legs that may be from fighting off the wolves.
The livestock owner has removed the carcasses of dead animals where possible to do so and kept his flock on the move around the grazing areas, Pamplin said.
Wildlife officials may attempt to trap and collar more wolves to help monitor the pack’s movements, Pamplin said.
“Our preferred option is to help the livestock owner move the sheep to another area, but finding a place to graze 1,800 animals presents a challenge,” Pamplin said. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to avoid further conflict.”