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Wolves

The grey wolf has made a comeback across the Northern Rockies, thanks to federal protection, and Idaho and Montana now allow wolf hunting and trapping to keep the population in check.

Summary

Few wildlife conservation efforts have been as controversial as that of the grey wolf in the Northern Rockies. Federal efforts to protect the wolf have clashed with state efforts to control wolf populations and protect livestock and game from predation by wolf packs.

Idaho and Montana have been given federal authority to manage wolf numbers using public hunts. Federal officials require Idaho to maintain a population of at least 150 wolves and 10 breeding pairs.

Idaho wildlife officials have boosted bag limits, expanded trapping and extended hunting seasons in some areas to help further reduce wolf populations in all corners of the state. Its 10-month wolf season runs until June.

Idaho’s wolf managers estimated 500 to 600 wolves roamed the state as of spring 2012, down from the more than 1,000 when the 2011 hunting season opened in August.

Hunters and trappers killed 364 wolves since the 2011 season opened, while dozens more wolves have died of natural causes or been killed for preying on livestock or targeted as part of a strategy to lessen impacts on specific elk herds in the state.

A federal appeals court in March rejected a lawsuit from conservation groups that wanted to block wolf hunts across the Northern Rockies. The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress had the right to intervene when it stripped protections from wolves in spring 2011.

Lawmakers stepped in after court rulings kept wolves on the endangered list for years after they reached recovery goals. Wildlife advocates claimed in their lawsuit that Congress violated the separation of powers by interfering with the courts. But the court said Congress was within its rights, and that lawmakers had appropriately amended the Endangered Species Act to deal with Northern Rockies wolves.

There are more than 1,700 wolves in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and expanding populations in portions of Eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. Wolf hunting could resume in Wyoming this fall.

In parts of Montana, ranchers and local officials frustrated with continuing attacks on livestock have proposed bounties for hunters that kill wolves. Montana wildlife officials said they will consider ways to expand hunting after 166 wolves were killed this season, short of the state’s 220-wolf quota.

Wolves once thrived across North America but were exterminated across most of the continental U.S. by the 1930s, through government sponsored poisoning and bounty programs.

Wolves were put on the endangered list in 1974. Over the last two decades, state and federal agencies have spent more than $100 million on wolf restoration programs across the country. There are more than 4,500 of the animals in the upper Great Lakes and a struggling population of several dozen wolves in the Desert Southwest.

Prior lawsuits resulted first in the animals’ reintroduction to the Northern Rockies and then later kept them on the endangered list for a decade after the species reached recovery goal of 300 wolves in three states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is monitoring the hunts. But agency officials have said they have no plans to intervene because the states have pledged to manage wolves responsibly.

Federal officials have pledged to step in to restore endangered species protections if wolf numbers drop to less than 100 animals in either Montana or Idaho.

Even without hunting, wolves are shot regularly in the region in response to livestock attacks. Since their reintroduction, more than 1,600 wolves have been shot by government wildlife agents or ranchers.

Latest updates in this topic

Stevens County Commission condemns state wolf management

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Stevens County Commissioners have unanimously passed a resolution that hammers Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife managers for failing to protect people, wildlife and livestock from wolves that are naturally recolonizing the region.

The resolution (attached) stems from the Huckleberry Pack attacks on sheep grazing on Hancock timber company land, officially killing at least 24 sheep from mid-August to early September, when the rancher rounded up the flock that started at about 1,800 sheep and moved them to distant pasture.

The resolution says more than 200 of the sheep are still missing and attacks that might be attributed to wolves have been reported by other livestock owners in the area. The commissioners are particularly upset that a livestock grower was forced off private land by wolf attacks.

Meanwhile the Stevens County Commission contends the WDFW “failed to honor its obligation and an imminent threat to life and property still exists.”

The resolution says the commission “will consider all available option to protect the residents” and declared that “the wolves of the Huckleberry Pack are subject to whatever Constitutional means necessary to secure our public in their lives, liberty and property.”

No specific actions were listed.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 


Documents:

Ketchum wants Idaho to use nonlethal wolf control

PREDATORS  — City leaders in the central Idaho resort town of Ketchum have passed a resolution requesting state officials use nonlethal methods to manage wolf conflicts with livestock in Blaine County.

The city council in the resolution passed Monday said guard dogs, strobe lights and electric fencing are preferable to aerial gunning, hunting and trapping, according to the Associated Press.

Councilors in the resolution say tourism and wildlife are important to local citizens and the economy.

Councilors are also asking state leaders to reconsider what is considered a viable wolf population.

Idaho lawmakers earlier this year approved creating a $400,000 fund and a five-member board to authorize the killing of wolves.

Conservation groups say that will drive down the Idaho wolf population to about 150 animals. There are about 650 wolves in the state now.

Another Washington wolf pack targets livestock

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A northeastern Washington wolf pack so new it hasn't been formally recognized has been confirmed in a livestock attack in Ferry County, state wildlife officials announced today.

The Profanity Pack, which apparently was documented sometime this year by a biologist working with the Colville Confederated Tribes, has been related to a wolf attack on cattle reported Sept. 12 on a Colville National Forest grazing allotment.

The pack, which doesn't yet show on state wolf recovery maps, was named for its proximity to Profanity Peak, elevation 6,428 feet, along the crest of the Kettle River Range east of Curlew, and north of Sherman Pass.

“Remote cameras show the pack includes at least three adults and three pups,” said Nate Pamplin, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department wildlife program director.

“WDFW is coordinating with the Colville Confederated Tribe on camera monitoring and future trapping efforts to place a radio collar on members of the pack.”

The Diamond M livestock operation, grazing on a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) allotment, reported finding a wolf-killed cow and calf in the vicinity of the Profanity Peak pack, Pamplin said.

Diamond M Ranch also had problems with wolf attacks mostly on private land in northern Stevens County in 2012. Those attacks affecting 17 cattle, led the state to put helicopter gunners in the air and kill eight members of the Wedge Pack.

“WDFW staff and deputies from the Stevens County and Ferry County sheriff’s offices responded and went to the site on Friday,” Pamplin said. “The area was remote, about four miles by trail from the nearest road.  WDFW staff confirmed that the cattle had been killed by wolves approximately a week before the necropsy.”

The Forest Service grazing allotment has 210 cow-calf pairs, Pamplin said:

The operators indicated that they believe that they have had more depredations than what has been located.  Operators also indicated that they are moving the cattle down (to a lower elevation) on the allotment to get to better forage and to initiate the move of cattle toward the area from which they will moved off the range in about a month (these actions were discussed independent of this depredation event).  

WDFW staff are completing the depredation investigation report and also reviewing/completing a current checklist of preventive measures that have been used to this point.

WDFW will coordinate with the USFS and the operator to continue discussions on options for avoiding/minimizing further depredations.

The cattle attacks were reported a month after another pack, the Huckleberry Pack, was confirmed in attacks on sheep a rancher was running on a private timber company grazing lease in Stevens County.  At least 24 sheep were killed as state officers went in and killed one of the pack's wolves, the alpha female.  The 1,800 sheep have been moved to other pasture.

Activists shadowing wolf hunters in Montana

HUNTING — Activists opposed to killing wolves outside Yellowstone National Park said Monday they are shadowing outfitters outside the park during wolf hunting seasons.

Montana’s six-month general hunting season for gray wolves is underway after just one of the predators was reported taken during an early-season archery hunt.

It’s the fourth annual hunt since Congress revoked the animals’ endangered species protections in 2011. Yet it continues to stir debate.

Rod Coronado with the recently-formed Yellowstone Wolf Patrol says the group’s members will use a video camera to document any wolves killed to raise public awareness, according to the Associated Press.

Coronado told the reporter there is no intention to directly interfere, which would be illegal.

Hunting units north of Yellowstone are subject to a six-wolf quota. Montana does not limit how many wolves can be killed statewide.

Biologist to update North Idaho wolf pack status at meeting

PREDATORS — Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional wildlife manager, will give an update on gray wolves in North Idaho during the agency’s monthly Sportsmen’s Breakfast at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, at Lake City Senior Center, 1916 N. Lakewood Dr.

Breakfast costs $7.50.

Wolf research booms in age of radio collaring

PREDATORS — While polarized factions tangle over every messy step of gray wolf reintroduction to the Northern Rockies, wildlife researchers keep putting radio collars on wolves and learning more and more about the species every year.

Wolf haters like to hold onto the pre-1995 wolf reintroduction science that classified Canada wolves as a different subspecies than wolves found in, say, Idaho.  But since then, radio telemetry has proved that wolves range hundreds and even thousands of miles.  There's never been a wolf-proof fence on the U.S.-Canada Border. Wolves in the two countries have been hooking up for centuries.

The crowd that loves wolves above all other things also has its problems with taking a nugget of truth and using it for propaganda to hound hunters, ranchers and wildlife biologists trying to “manage” wolves as they expand.  

But enough of that.

The point is to be flexible enough in your thinking to absorb the knowledge piling in during this revolutionary period of wildlife science.

Doug Smith, the lead wolf researcher in Yellowstone National Park, lays it out in a good read this week from the Missoula Independent:

Doug Smith can't stress enough the importance of radio collars in the wolf world. From reintroduction to delisting to the first state-managed hunting seasons on wolves, the species has become increasingly politicized, pitting ranchers and outfitters against conservationists and wildlife advocates. Some people love the animal and some people hate it, Smith says. Without the biological data collected through collaring and monitoring, what we know about wolves would become “unhinged,” subject more to the wildly differing opinions held by those on both sides. The problem is no one understands “the real wolf,” Smith continues, and that understanding is key to finding a fact-based middle ground.

“Collars root you in reality,” says Smith, who started in wolf biology in 1979 and now serves as the wolf project leader and senior biologist at Yellowstone National Park. “They give you the basics. This is what wolves really do.”

Wolves have been radio-collared and tracked in the Northern Rockies for two decades. Biologists from several states work to put together information collected to help them understand more about the species. Every year they are surprised by what they learn about the behavior of some of the large canines, such as a female wolf that left her pups and took off on a 50-mile walkabout after her mate was killed by a hunter.

And then there's OR7, which left Oregon for a 1,000-mile jaunt before returning, finding a mate and siring a pack of pups this year.

Stay tuned for more.
  

 

Sheep removed from area of Stevens County wolf attacks after alpha female killed

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Washington wildlife officials confirmed today that the alpha female of a sheep-attacking wolf pack was killed by a helicopter shooter last month.

A Stevens County rancher has moved his sheep away from the site where a pack of six-12 wolves killed at least 24 of the animals since mid-August, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed in a just-posted release.

The move comes after one of the wolves — the Huckleberry Pack's alpha female — was killed on Aug. 23 by a helicopter shooter. Wildlife officials had tried to target younger wolves to avoid interrupting the pack's social structure. However, the breeding female was small, only 66 pounds, and not easy to distinguish.

Kristin Mansfield, Washington's state veterinarian, just completed a necropsy today confirming the wolf killed to help stave off the attacks, was a 3 year-old breeding female.

Working through Labor Day weekend, rancher Dave Dashiell rounded up his flock of 1,800 sheep and herded them to temporary holding pens five miles away, and has begun trucking them to their winter pasture in the Columbia Basin.

WDFW field staff and 14 volunteers helped to round up the sheep and move them off the grazing land he leases from a private company about 50 miles northwest of Spokane.

  • Stevens County Cattlemen's Association and Dashiell issued statements over the weekend complaining about being forced off private land for the sake of wolves.

Nate Pamplin, director of the agency's wildlife program, said the rancher’s decision to move his sheep earlier than usual will prevent further losses to his flock, but the department is cautioning other ranchers in the area to be vigilant as members of the Huckleberry pack move about their range.

“The threat to one rancher’s flock has passed, but there are other ranchers and other livestock in that area,” Pamplin said. “We need to make sure that the owners of those livestock operations – large and small – are aware of the pack’s presence and are taking necessary precautions.”

Pamplin said WDFW field staff will continue to monitor the movement of the Huckleberry pack and will contact other ranchers in the area to discuss appropriate protective measures, such as maintaining a human presence around their stock, using guard dogs, and removing animal carcasses whenever feasible.

On Aug. 22, at the height of the attacks on Dashiell’s sheep, WDFW authorized the removal of up to four members of the Huckleberry wolf pack, one of 13 documented packs in the state.

One female wolf was killed the next day by an aerial marksman from federal Wildlife Services contracted by the department.

In a necropsy completed today, the department’s wildlife veterinarian confirmed the wolf was the pack’s breeding female. 

While other lethal measures were authorized, no other wolves have been removed.

Pamplin called the killing of the pack's breeding female an “unfortunate development, and one we hoped to avoid.”

“We provided direction for individuals involved in aerial removals or trapping/euthanasia to try to remove smaller bodied animals.  The wolf removed was likely three years old, in fair condition, but only weighed 66 pounds, and its status could not have been discerned from the air.  We anticipate concerns about pack integrity; and while we don’t know what will happen in this specific case, we do know that other pack members can step into that role when an alpha is displaced.   

The collared male in the Huckleberry Pack, believed to be the alpha male, has not been in the vicinity of the sheep flock since approximately Aug. 27, Pamplin said, noting that “the aerial operation may have assisted in keeping some distance from the sheep.”

“Lethal measures continue to be an option if the pack attacks other livestock, but we will consider that option only after reasonable preventive efforts have been made,” Pamplin said.

He said WDFW has been contacted by many citizens, both opposing and supporting the department’s use of lethal measures to protect the rancher’s sheep. 

Not getting what they wanted from the WDFW, environmental groups petitioned Gov. Jay Inslee to put limits on the agency's lethal wolf control options.

“Wolf management generates strong feelings on all sides,” Pamplin said. “We respect those feelings and will continue to do our utmost to ensure the recovery of wolves in Washington while working with ranchers to avoid and minimize conflicts with these animals.”

Rancher: Being forced off private grazing land by wolves is wrong

UPDATED 1:30 p.m. with response to rancher from Conservation Northwest.

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Following in this post is a just-released statement from northeastern Washington rancher Dave Dashiell regarding his experience with the Huckleberry wolf pack on private timber company ground he leased for grazing this summer.

As The Spokesman-Review reported this morning, the  Dashiells moved their flock of about 1,800 sheep off the grazing lease in southern Stevens County over the weekend after wolves had killed at least 24 sheep since mid-August.  Among the sheep they rounded up were several that had wounds, including a buck that may not survive.  “The cost for a replacement buck is $800-$1,000,” says Jamie Henneman of the Stevens County Cattlemen's Association.

  • Moving the sheep is costly and the unplanned move from summer to winter range six weeks early could have consequences down the line, especially in a drought year, the association says.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife worked with the rancher to defend the sheep and launched a helicopter gunning operation to kill up to four wolves in the pack, which includes 6-12 members.  Wolves are otherwise protected by state endangered species laws. The department has been under intense pressure from pro-wolf groups to avoid harming the Huckleberry Pack.

Only one wolf was killed before WDFW pulled gunners and trappers out of the area for the Labor Day Weekend.  No more sheep have been reported killed since last week.

For more background on the situation, here's a sampling of my S-R blogposts in reverse chronological order:

Pro-wolf groups pressure Gov. Inslee to curb wolf control

Huckleberry Pack attacks more sheep in Stevens County

Ranchers: Wolf attacks shouldn't force sheep off private land

Wolf update: Huckleberry Pack avoids helicopter gunners

Helicopter gunners kill at least 1 Huckleberry wolf

State targets wolf pack

Wolves kill 14 sheep in Stevens County

Here's the Dashiell statement posted today:

This summer our ranch experienced a crisis that is becoming all too common in Eastern Washington. Our sheep herd became the target of pack of wolves determined to kill and maim as many animals as possible despite our hardest efforts to prevent it.

Our usual everyday management included what a lot of people call “non-lethal deterrents” including a full time herder, four Marema/Akbash/Pyrenees cross guard dogs that live with the herd full time and rotating the sheep in their grazing area. But these actions did not prevent the wolves from attacking our sheep. Once the Huckleberry wolf pack began feeding on our band of sheep in early August, the killing was relentless with 2-3 animals lost every day. Once the killing started, we called on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to help and they provided the addition of four Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel stay with the sheep to try and increase human presence. We also allowed  the department to provide a range rider to try and haze the wolves and allowed the Department to chronicle the wolf kills as they happened on nearly a daily basis. This experience has taught us two things: once wolves start killing livestock, no amount of effort can discourage them and don’t put too much trust in words.

Weighing how much words are worth is something I have gained more experience in over the last year in my participation in the WDFW Wolf Advisory Group (WAG). For the last year, I have served as a representative for the Cattle Producers of Washington on the WAG, oftentimes traveling to all-day meetings far from the ranch. The purpose of our committee was to help the Department find ways to prevent and address the kinds of wolf conflicts I am currently experiencing and we can see how well that worked. The WAG had  long discussions about non-lethal methods, compensation, protocols for lethal removal, the monitoring and collaring of wolves and many other topics, but in the end all of the talk did very little to help a person in my situation.

In addition to being part of the WAG group, I am also one of a group of producers who have asked WDFW for wolf collar data so we can manage our herds. In our case we received no response and other producers were asked to sign a contract with certain non-lethal management rules first as some kind of test on whether they deserved the information or not. Being denied this basic tool directly caused the wolf conflict situation our ranch experienced, as we were unaware that we were moving our band of sheep near a wolf den site. Had we had access to the information, we would have made alternate grazing plans.

Words have also failed us because they aren’t always backed with action. We were told that four wolves from the Huckleberry pack would be removed, but as of last Friday, Aug. 22, the Department called off the helicopter team after only one wolf was removed and shortly after pulled the trappers as well. Our ranch was left and high and dry to try to try and handle the situation ourselves while at the same time having our hands tied due to the wolf’s state endangered species status.

With no other choice, we moved our sheep to a friend’s pasture on Sunday where they will be held until we can move them to a new grazing location far from our current site. Having to make this kind of change in the middle of the summer has caused considerable stress, expense and hardship to our operation. The grazing lease we had arranged with the private timber company was good until the middle of October and now we have to move our animals and try to find an alternate spot at the last minute. 

Our animals are stressed, many are wounded and over 24 are confirmed as wolf killed. We had hoped to stay on the private leased ground, fulfill our contract, knock down the brush and weeds on the land to help manage it and move in the fall. Instead, we are being forced to leave early because WDFW will not follow through on their commitment to manage wolves and remove chronically depredating wolves. All the commitments from the Department meant nothing and again, words have failed us.

We don’t want to see this situation play out again on a different ranch in the county. The time for words is over, we need to see action. The Huckleberry wolf pack needs to be removed, not our sheep. By making us leave we are only passing the problem along to others in the area when the wolf finds their pets, animals and livestock.

I know from experience that continuing to talk about the wolf issue is futile. Our situation and others clearly shows that while non-lethal  “deterrents” or management methods may work for a short amount of time, but they don’t work forever and once wolves start killing livestock, that behavior cannot be stopped.

Removing problem wolves is part of wolf management and this reality has been accepted by other states. Washington needs to accept this as well.

If we allow people to be forced off the land, our economy and our communities will suffer greatly. We are asking our Stevens County Commissioners Steve Parker, Don Dashiell and Wes McCart, our Sheriff Kendle Allen, our County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen and our legislators Joel Kretz, Shelly Short and Brian Dansel to recognize that the time for words is over, the time for action is now.

Following is a reaction to the Dashiell statement posted on my post on Facebook from Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest:

It's interesting that Dashiel wrote, “Our usual everyday management included what a lot of people call “non-lethal deterrents”… I suppose that's true, in the same way the aspirin is a heart disease deterrent. It's great up until the point that more is needed.

Why would he need collar data to know that the Huckleberry Pack denned a few miles from that pasture? As a member of the WAG, and as somebody who can look at maps on DFW's website, not to mention somebody who can hear a howl or see a scat/track, he should have already known.

He doesn't mention that, as I understand it, before this field season he turned down offers of cooperative agreements and substantial resources (including a rider, collars, etc.) from WSU and also DFW. Nor does he mention that during the two or so weeks in which the pack was developing a refined taste for his mutton, Dashiel and his presumably experienced “herder” thought they were experiencing cougar issues.

But what bothers me most is that he describes this as “a crisis that is becoming all too common in Eastern Washington.” Really? This and the Wedge Pack (2 years ago) make for two such crises, both with stubborn ranchers who resisted the resources to update their methods and prevent the situation. In the nine project seasons that Conservation Northwest has been involved in with more collaborative ranchers since 2012, our total number of depredations is ZERO.

Sheep moved off private grazing area to prevent wolf attacks

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Stevens County livestock producers say it's a bad precedent to allow sheep-eating wolves to force livestock off private land.  

But that appears to be what happened over the weekend.

After at least 24 sheep were killed by the Huckleberry wolf pack since mid-August, ranchers Dave and Julie Dashiell are moving their flock of 1,800 sheep from their grazing area on Hancock timber company land to their winter range.  The move from is six months earlier than normal, possibly leading to more issues for the ranchers down the road.

“If this is the precedent – that Fish and Wildlife refuses to control their animals, that the rancher has to leave – we have a private property rights crisis here,” said Jamie Henneman of the Stevens County Cattlemen's Association. “That means anyone that owns land out here … it means you’re going to get kicked out, the predator has precedence.”

See the story here.

See a subsequent statement by the rancher here.

Pro-wolf groups pressure Gov. Inslee to curb wolf control

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Environmental groups who've been unable to persuade Washington wildlife officials into letting wolves eat as many sheep as they like in southern Stevens County are pressuring Gov. Jay Inslee to clamp down on wolf management when it comes to lethal control efforts.   Here's the story just moved by the Associated Press:

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Environmental groups on Thursday asked Gov. Jay Inslee to push for the creation of strict rules limiting when wolves can be killed in response to livestock depredations.

Their petition sought to limit when the state Department of Fish and Wildlife can kill wolves. It would also require ranchers to use nonlethal measures to protect their livestock.

Rules similar to those requested by the petition are in place in Oregon.

The groups made the request as the state was in the process this week of trying to kill four wolves in the Huckleberry Pack in an effort to protect a herd of sheep. One wolf has been killed so far.

Wolves were hunted to extinction a century ago in Washington. Since the early 2000s, the animals have started to make a comeback by entering Washington from Idaho and British Columbia. The state is estimated to have 52 wolves in 13 packs.

“All we’re asking for are some very reasonable standards on what ranchers need to do to protect their livestock and when the state can step in and kill an endangered species,” said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The governor’s office has 45 days to respond to the request. The office has received the petition and will review the request, Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said.

In 2012, the state killed seven wolves in the Wedge Pack despite the fact that the rancher had taken little action to protect his stock, the environmental groups said.

They contend the situation is similar with the Huckleberry Pack.

However, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has said the owner of the sheep herd has taken numerous nonlethal steps to protect his 1,800 animals. But wolves keep killing the sheep.

Conservation groups filed a similar petition in 2013, but they withdrew it based on promises from the Fish and Wildlife to negotiate new rules governing lethal methods of wolf management. No negotiations have taken place, the environmental groups said.

The groups appealing to Inslee also include Cascadia Wildlands, Western Environmental Law Center, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, The Lands Council, Wildlands Network, Kettle Range Conservation Group and the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Huckleberry Pack attacks more sheep in Stevens County

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Even though two more sheep were found injured from wolf attacks this week, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department is planning to suspend trapping and ground helicopter gunners through the Labor Day weekend to avoid conflicts with recreationists and hunters out for the Sept. 1 opening of grouse hunting season.

At least 24 sheep have been killed in eight confirmed wolf attacks on a flock of 1,800 sheep grazing private timber company land in southern Stevens County since Aug. 14

One wolf was killed by a helicopter gunner on Aug. 22.  Although officers and ranch crews have been authorized to shoot up to four wolves in the pack of up to 12 members, no others have been killed.

Meanwhile, rancher Dave Dashiell of Hunters apparently is making plans to move some or all of his sheep flock to other pasture he's secured.

Here's the latest update, through today and looking at plans from next week, from Nate Pamplin, WDFW assistant wildlife program director:

WDFW staff, along with the rancher, a contracted range rider, and four guard dogs continue to provide on-going presence to protect the flock of 1,800 sheep.

Two injured lambs were found by the operator yesterday.  This morning, one lamb died of its injuries, the other was euthanized.  Investigators attributed the injuries to wolves, making this confirmed depredation event #8.  The attack likely occurred a few days ago. 

As of this morning, no wolves were trapped/euthanized.  Trapping will cease after tomorrow morning.  Also, there will not be further aerial operations this weekend (the last flight was Tuesday morning).  We want to avoid conflicts and possible public safety issues with Labor Day weekend recreationists and Monday’s grouse and archery deer hunting opener.  Department staff and the rancher will continue to have authorization to lethally remove up to two wolves observed in the vicinity of the flock, and we will not exceed a total of four wolves removed under the current authorizations for all lethal methods being utilized.

We learned that the rancher will likely be able to move his sheep off of this allotment and to an interim pasture next week.  We appreciate his efforts to expedite the move and will continue to offer and provide assistance where it is needed.

We have discussed compensation for sheep injured and killed by wolves with the rancher and will continue that dialogue with him at a later date, once the more immediate issues are resolved.

In addition to continued work with this operator, Department staff will reach out to neighboring livestock owners.  Our focus is to ensure awareness of this wolf pack, and to offer technical and cost-share assistance to in an effort to avoid and minimize potential depredations to these adjacent operations. 

Attached is a chronology of activities associated with the Huckleberry Pack.  We will update it next week, once sheep are removed from the allotment.  It has been a dynamic situation, with information coming from the field, often times as new events are unfolding.  We understand the intense interest in and the desire for us to get information out to all interested parties.  Thus the chronology may have additional technical edits as field staff review and update


Documents:

Ranchers: wolf attacks shouldn’t force sheep off private land

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Northeastern Washington ranchers are standing up for private property rights to counter pro-wolf groups that are pressuring Washington Fish and Wildlife officials to force a sheep rancher off private timber company lands to avoid wolf attacks.

Following is the media release just posted by the Stevens County Cattlemen's Association.

HUNTERS, WA — As the situation with the Huckleberry wolf pack continues to worsen and the pack continues to kill sheep from the Dashiell ranch on private grazing ground near Hunters, some groups are pressuring the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to make the rancher leave the area. Stevens County Cattlemen’s President Scott Nielsen said that option is “unacceptable.”

“We know that at as this situation worsens, there are those who believe that forcing the rancher to leave his grazing lands will solve the problem,” said Nielsen. “But preventing the legitimate use of private land to meet political goals is always unacceptable. Under this logic, we have seen endangered species policy ruin businesses and deny people’s property rights. We do not want that to happen here.”

Over 22 sheep have been killed since the Huckleberry pack started targeting the Dashiell’s sheep herd earlier this summer. Non-lethal deterrents including a range rider, the work of up to four WDFW department staff, four guard dogs and herders have provided an on-going presence to try and stop the depredation. A helicopter was authorized to remove up to four wolves on Aug. 22, but only one was killed. The helicopter was recalled and padded leg-hold traps have been deployed to catch the wolves and euthanize them.

SCCA argues that if the state does not follow through on their commitment to remove the problem wolves and prevents allowing the Dashiells to fulfill their grazing contract with the private landholder, Hancock Timber, a series of negative circumstances can occur.

“That timberland is being grazed to the benefit of the timber stands, the reduction of wildfire fuel loads and improvement of wildlife habitat,” Nielsen said. “If we call all of that management to a halt because we refuse to deal with a predator crisis, we are moving in the wrong direction.”

Nielsen also said while SCCA supports the attempt to lethally remove the wolves, he said that the current crisis was caused by denying ranchers the information they needed to keep their herds away from wolf areas.

“We need to remember that if the Dashiells had the collar data as they had requested last year, there would likely never have been livestock herds in proximity to this wolf den. Excuses that the information could not be obtained from the tribe are not valid, as the department has had over a year to sort that issue out,” Nielsen said. “The rancher has every right to be on that land and should not be forced to leave.”

Oregon wolf pack one livestock attack away from lethal action

ENDANGERED SPECIES — One of Oregon’s wolf packs is one livestock attack away from becoming the first to be considered for a kill order under the state’s unique rules.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday that the Umatilla Pack, which roams mostly private land about 30 miles west of Pendleton, has been confirmed responsible for killing a sheep last week in a private pasture. Two other attacks occurred in June.

Oregon's rules prevent wildlife officers from killing a wolf unless three conditions are met:

  • There’s hard evidence the pack is responsible for four livestock attacks over the past six months,
  • the rancher has taken nonlethal steps to protect his livestock,
  • the department feels wolf attacks are likely to continue even with more nonlethal protections.

“Under these rules, the key consideration for lethal control or any other actions will be to take an action that minimizes the risk of further depredation,” department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said in an email.

Here's more information on the Oregon situation, with background on wolf attacks on livestock, from the Associated Press:

The rules were adopted last year as the result of a lawsuit by conservation groups.

Joseph cattle rancher Todd Nash said he was looking forward to the day when Oregon’s wolves are numerous enough to be taken off the state endangered species list, and the Oregon Wolf Plan would go into Phase Two, when lethal control rules would ease.

That could happen after this winter’s statewide wolf count. The Oregon Wolf Plan sets a goal of four packs successfully producing pups for three consecutive years before delisting can be considered. That has been met the past two years.

Dennehy said delisting is not automatic, and would have to go through a public process. Even under Phase Two, there would be rules for considering lethal control, though they would be less stringent than they are now.

Rob Klavins of the conservation group Oregon Wild said they would prefer a science-based conservation goal for delisting, rather than one set by political negotiation.

“Oregon is doing better than any other state in trying to balance legitimate concerns with science-based conservation and Oregon conservation values,” he said. “It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than any other state.”

Overall, the number of confirmed wolves statewide has grown from 48 in 2012 to 64 last year. The number of packs grew from six to eight, though only four successfully raised pups last year.

So far this year, there have been six confirmed wolf attacks on livestock in Oregon, according to the department website. There were 13 in 2013, eight in 2012, and 10 in 2011. Other packs have come within one attack of coming under consideration for lethal control.

Wolf update: Huckleberry Pack avoids helicopter gunners

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Still only one wolf has been killed in a helicopter gunning operation that started Aug. 22 to kill up to four wolves from the Huckleberry Pack that's been attacking sheep in southern Stevens County.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has issued an update on the operation to relieve attacks that have claimed at least 22 sheep from a flock of 1,800 grazing on Hancock timber company land.

Here is the full update from Nate Pamplin, WDFW assistant wildlife program director. It addresses helicopter flights, continued use of non-lethal measures and moving the sheep away from the wolves to other pasture:

Helicopter flights occurred on Saturday, August 23 through Tuesday morning, August 26.  As we noted in Monday’s news release, one female wolf has been removed.  Helicopter activity provided hazing which may have kept wolves from the flock, and we have had only one sheep injured by a wolf attack, found on Sunday morning (and was later found dead this week, and it is being investigated).  As indicated before, on the Saturday morning flight (and the subsequent ground investigation), five sheep were found dead and three were injured.

We did not fly on Tuesday evening and do not plan to fly today.  We have established a trapline and have provided instructions to euthanize up to three more wolves caught.  We also have ongoing authorization for our staff and the rancher to kill up to two wolves observed in the vicinity of the flock.  We will continue to assess these efforts each day, and the directive is to remove up to four wolves from the Huckleberry pack. 

Nonlethal measures continue to be in place, with the rancher, a range rider, and up to four department staff, and four guard dogs providing an on-going presence.

We continue to work with the producer to try to find an alternative grazing location.  We’re hoping that will occur soon, and the producer understands our desire that for this particular situation, we’re hoping to eliminate the killing of his sheep by wolves by moving the sheep to their winter range.  He received a communication yesterday saying that he should be able to move the sheep soon. 

We’ve received a lot of inquiries about why moving sheep hasn’t happened sooner.  A couple items I hope you’ll keep in mind.  First, with the Carlton Complex Fire in Okanogan County and other fires across the state, there has been a tremendous demand for alternate pasture for displaced livestock operations.  We’re offering whatever assistance we can to help the operator with the various logistics. 

Second, I think it is important to remember that neither the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan nor our preventative measures checklist suggest that moving livestock off of an allotment is a requirement to address wolf-livestock conflicts.  With the operator moving his sheep to winter range anyway, we’re hoping to work with him to expedite that move.  But in the long run, and in other conflict situations that we will face, it is not likely to be feasible for a rancher to move livestock out of the vicinity of problem wolves.  Maintaining working lands and the livestock industry is important both from the perspective of social tolerance of wolf recovery, and the overall maintenance of viable local economies and support for working lands (and the wildlife conservation benefits of those lands continuing in that status). 

Finally, we have approached the rancher about compensation for sheep injured and killed by wolves and will likely continue that dialogue with him at a later date, once some of the immediate issues are resolved.

Dogs protecting sheep from predators testy toward hikers

HIKING — The large guard dogs such as great Pyrenees and Akbash that pro-wolf groups recommend for guarding livestock from predators such as cougars, bears and wolves don't necessarily distinguish between 4-legged and 2-legged critters passing through public lands:

Guard dogs for sheep herds continue to be a problem for hikers in Colorado
Hikers are reporting more conflicts with the large, white Akbash dogs that guard sheep herds in San Juan County, and one hiker recently asked the Colorado county's commission to work with the multiple federal and state land agencies and the ranchers with grazing allotments to develop new policies to help keep the hikers and the dogs apart.

Idaho joins hunt for citizen wolf observations

PREDATORS — Idaho is asking the public to help in the task of monitoring the whereabouts of wolves.

“Scouting for upcoming hunting seasons, huckleberry picking, and general late summer recreating are all good reasons for getting away to Idaho’s great outdoors,” says the media release. “If during these forays, you see a wolf, Fish and Game staff would like to hear about it.”

“We’re looking for basic wolf information from folks returning from the field,” Fish and Game wildlife manager Craig White said. “Where the wolf or wolves were seen, their behavior, size, coat color and any other details.”

The easiest way to report sightings is to use the Idaho wolf reporting form on the Fish and Game website. It's easy to use.

  • Washington's wolf reporting form was created for the same purpose of enlisting thousands of eyes in the field to help wildlife managers monitor an elusive species.

 

Correction: Huckleberry Pack can’t be sorted by color

ENDANGERED SPECIES — I have confirmed an error in my Sunday evening report  regarding the helicopter gunning operation to kill some wolves in the Huckleberry Pack that have killed at least 22 sheep and injured at least three more in six separate incidents on a flock of 1,800 sheep in southern Stevens County since Aug. 14.

Correction: My original report quoted the unofficial source as saying the adults are black and the  juveniles are light-colored and that helicopter gunners would try to use those colors to help them target the younger wolves. The source said that by avoiding shots at the adults the agency would try to protect the breeding pair and the pack's integrity.

Washington Fish and Wildlife officials called and said that is not true and at least one source who has photos of the Huckleberry Pack confirms that the animals are mixed colors… in other words, it's not a black and light situation.

  • The collared alpha male is gray, for instance (see photo).
  • The pups are different colors as seen in this video posted on the WDFW website (below).

Today, state Fish and Wildlife officials confirmed that efforts were continuing to find and remove up to four wolves from the pack. A federal wildlife agent contracted by WDFW killed one wolf on Saturday, as I reported Sunday night on information from the  unofficial source.

No information has been released on whether more wolves were killed today, Aug. 25. Wolves are protected by state endangered species laws in Eastern Washington except in cases when they pose a danger to people or domestic animals.

Fish and Wildlife officials in Spokane said they were not aware that Director Phil Anderson had received information that agency staff in the field were in some sort of danger, as reported to me by the unofficial source. So I cannot confirm or correct that statement.

Helicopter gunners kill at least 1 Huckleberry Pack wolf

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.

State gunners ordered to kill 4 wolves in Huckleberry pack

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A death sentence has been issued for a portion of a wolf pack that’s killed at least 22 sheep this month in southern Stevens County

Efforts to haze and deter the Huckleberry Pack from attacking a flock of 1,800 sheep grazing on private timber land have failed and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say they have no other choice but to target the pack.

In an effort to break the predation cycle, agency Director Phil Anderson said he authorized the killing of four wolves from the pack, which is estimated at up to 12 members.

Officials will later evaluate whether that is enough lethal force to end the sheep attacks.

Gunners began flying the area near Hunters in a helicopter today. A wolf was spotted, but at 4 p.m. officials said no wolves had yet been killed.

“As of Friday, we had confirmed that 17 sheep had been killed by wolves in five separate incidents, and we continue to find more dead and wounded sheep from the flock,” said Bruce Botka, agency spokesman. 

Today crews found five dead and three injured sheep that were attacked last night, Botka said. Investigators confirmed that wolves were responsible for all of the latest attacks, despite night patrols and use of four guard dogs.

Botka said the situation meets the state's conditions for lethal removal of wolves, which are protected in Eastern Washington by state endangered species laws. The pack is one of about a dozen wolf packs confirmed in Eastern Washington.

“There have been repeated, documented wolf kills; non-lethal methods have not stopped the predation; the attacks are likely to continue, and the livestock owner has not done anything to attract the wolves,” he said.

Rancher Dave Dashiell of Hunters has worked with WDFW staff to try to prevent wolf attacks on his flock, Botka said.

This week, four department employees, two federal staff and two contracted range riders have been working with the rancher to prevent additional attacks, he said. 

“Despite those efforts, sheep continue to be killed by wolves,” Botka said.

Washington law allows ranchers to kill up to one wolf if caught in the act of attacking domestic animals. Earlier this week, Anderson gave Dashiell and the agency staffers guarding the flock greater authority to kill up to two wolves if spotted near the sheep even if they weren’t attacking.

On Friday, night conservation groups, including The Lands Council based in Spokane, appealed to Anderson to back off the authorization to kill wolves in the vicinity of the sheep.

“We appreciate the agency’s efforts to work with the rancher and use nonlethal means to protect sheep from further losses,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But the wolf kill order needs to be rescinded right away. Killing wolves is just not an effective means of protecting livestock.”

The groups were angered by today’s notice that the agency was targeting the wolves.

“Nonlethal measures, such as range riders and moving the sheep, were being put in place and should have been allowed to work before the agency moved to kill wolves,” Weiss said.

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.

The Huckleberry Pack, named for the nearby Huckleberry Mountains, was documented as a pack in 2012. The pack had not been associated with attacks on livestock until this month, officials said.

New wolf kill authorization broader than state law

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Some readers reacting to my recent report have pointed out that the public already has the right in Eastern  Washington to shoot a wolf that threatens a person or domestic animals even though wolves are protected by state endangered species laws.

So why did we headline the announcement that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has given a rancher the OK to shoot wolves?

I asked department officials to explain and here's a summary of the answer:

Gray wolves are managed under state regulations in the eastern third of the state while federal Endangered Species rules apply to wolves farther west.

Following incidents with wolves preying on sheep and pets in rural areas, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a standing rule that any person in the eastern third of the state who sees a wolf in the act of attacking livestock or domestic animals can shoot and kill up to one wolf to stop the attack.

The new authority given in the case of the recent sheep attacks in southern Stevens County is broader.

Rancher Dave Dashiell as well as WDFW staffers on the scene to help move and protect the sheep were given the authority Wednesday to shoot any wolf they see even near the sheep.  An attack does not need to be underway and they can kill more than one wolf if the opportunity presents itself.

That said, the chances are very low even under the broader guidelines that they will get the chance to shoot a wolf.  When the decision was finally made to destroy the cattle-eating Wedge Pack in 2012, the state got nowhere with killing wolves until they hired a helicopter. The aerial gunner took care of the issue in a couple of days.

“These attacks (on Stevens County sheep) have occurred mostly at night and unnoticed even though people are out there with dogs and lights,” said Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman. “It's a stretch to expect even one wolf to be shot under these rules, but at least they have the authority if the the chance presents itself.”