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 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.
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 other 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.
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 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 had 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 used 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 16 calves had been lost, mostly on private land managed by Diamond M Ranch.