UPDATE, Sept. 30, 5 p.m. -- On Sept. 29, WDFW staff investigated another attack that injured a calf in the Smackout Pack territory and confirmed it as a wolf depredation. That brings the total documented to three depredation events on livestock since September 21, including the one confirmed kill, one confirmed injury, and one probable kill.
ENDANGERED SPECIES -- Despite preventative measures and monitoring by a model range rider project, cattle on a grazing allotment northeast of Colville have been attacked by wolves.
As one wildlife biologist said on my Facebook page, "Bummer. They were doing so well (staying out of trouble) for so long."
The Smackout Pack has become the second wolf pack in northeastern Washington implicated in killing cattle this month by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
A Sept. 23 attack on a calf is the first confirmed wolf depredation in the Smackout Pack area this calendar year.
WDFW officials have not yet officially confirmed where the Smackout attacks occurred.
However, here are details, insight and perspective sent to me by Conservation Northwest, a group that's supported proactive measures to keep wolves away from these cattle.
The ranchers that operate on this and nearby allotments receive funding and other resources through our Range Rider Pilot Project. With this support from Conservation Northwest, as well as backing from WDFW, these ranchers have been conducting thorough predator conflict avoidance measures for the past five years. During that time, and likely in-part a result of this extremely diligent herd supervision, the Smackout Pack and these ranchers' livestock have successfully shared range on the Colville National Forest with very few instances of conflict despite being in close proximity.
With the range rider seeing signs that younger adult wolves from the Smackout Pack had been testing the cows in recent weeks, the ranchers had significantly increased human presence on the grazing allotment prior to the depredation. In addition to the range rider regularly working 14 hour days, seven days a week, other family members provided more herd supervision across the grazing allotment on foot, horseback and ATV.
The range rider saw the calf and its mother during their evening rounds of the allotment before finding the calf killed the following morning. After discovering and documenting the depredation, the range rider cleaned up the site and removed the carcass. However, trail cameras deployed over the weekend showed that wolves later returned to the site.Likely in-part a result of extremely diligent herd supervision, the Smackout Pack and these ranchers' livestock have successfully shared range on the Colville National Forest with very few instances of conflict despite being in close proximity.
We are monitoring this issue closely and working with WDFW and the ranchers to offer our support where it adds value in preventing additional depredations. We are hopeful that further conflict avoidance measures and the coming round-up of cows and calves for the scheduled end of the grazing season will prevent further losses and not allow depredations by the Smackout Pack to become habitual or persistent.
Range riding and other proactive measures can be very effective at deterring or reducing conflicts with wolves and other predators. This fact has been demonstrated by the minimal conflicts our Range Rider Project partners ranching in confirmed wolf territory across Eastern Washington have experienced over five years and more than twenty-five project seasons.
The ranchers involved in this case have been doing everything possible to avoid conflicts with wolves and other predators. We appreciate their diligent stewardship of their herd and of the grazing allotment on which they range.
We're also pleased to see more ranchers and farmers in Eastern Washington successfully adopting their own range riding and other proactive conflict avoidance measures in recent years. These efforts are reducing conflicts and growing social tolerance for wolves.
Wolves belong in our state. They are a keystone predator that plays a valuable and important role in the health of our ecosystems. We strongly support wolf recovery, and value their place in our region and our environment.
However, along with our ranching partners, we understand that range riding and other nonlethal deterrence methods are not always going to be 100 percent successful. As we've seen previously in Washington and in other states, occasional conflicts are an expected component of a balancing act between people, livestock and predators sharing the same space.
The goal of our Range Rider Pilot Project is to promote coexistence and reduce conflicts with wolves as much as possible.