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Helicopter gunners kill at least 1 Huckleberry Pack wolf

A total of 13 wolf packs were confirmed in the state on March 8, 2013, by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Washington Fish and Wildlife Department)
A total of 13 wolf packs were confirmed in the state on March 8, 2013, by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Washington Fish and Wildlife Department)

UPDATED WITH CORRECTION  6:17 p.m. on Aug. 25

ENDANGERED SPECIES -- The first wolf was killed in a helicopter gunning operation to stave off attacks on a flock of 1,800 sheep in northeastern Washington Saturday evening. The kill apparently came shortly after Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials announced they had decided to kill at least four members of the Huckleberry Pack.

An unofficial source says WDFW Director Phil Anderson told staff to avoid talking about the operation through the weekend because he had been contacted by people who said the staffers in the field were in danger.

  • Managing wolves that are naturally repopulating their niches in Washington exposes the wide spread of opinion the species prompts, as can be see in the comments posted to the story linked above.

The decision to kill some of the pack, which numbers up to 12 wolves, came after at least 22 sheep pastured by Dave Dashiell of Hunters on private timber company land had been documented as killed by the wolves since mid-August. The attacks came despite the 24-hour protection of crews and four guard dogs. 

  • 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 in the early attacks around Aug. 14.

Unofficial sources say the agency is trying to target the younger wolves to reduce the pressure on the pack to feed so many mouths, hoping they will turn back to feeding on wild game.

But wildlife officials said the situation will be re-evaluated on a daily basis as to whether more or less than four wolves will be killed.

No word has been released on how many wolves, if any, were killed today, Aug. 24.

Unofficial sources report that Anderson said the goal is to maintain the pack integrity.

Correction: My original report quoted the unofficial source as saying the adults are black and the  juveniles are light-colored. Wildlife officials called and said that is not true and at least one source who has photos of the Huckleberry Pack confirms that is not true. The collared alpha male is gray, for instance.

But apparently wildlife are trying to avoid harming the breeding pair, as originally reported.

Unofficial sources also say the rancher, who has been looking for alternative pasture since the attacks began, may have found an option south of Spokane, well out of the territory of the pack, which ranges mostly on the Spokane Indian Reservation in southern Stevens County.

Background

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.

Donny Martorello, WDFW state carnivore manager, said a wolf in the pack 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. The pack has not been associated with livestock kills until this month 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.




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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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