Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials met with Asotin County ranchers on Wednesday in Clarkston to explain the emerging protocols to deal with wolves that prey on livestock, including the potential for lethal control.
Jay Holzmiller, an Anatone-area rancher and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife commissioner, compared the meetings to the talk a flight attendant gives airline passengers shortly before takeoff. Many people don’t pay close attention to the instructions, but the information is indispensable in the event of an emergency.
While Washington has been dealing with wolves for nearly a decade, its has mostly been in the northeastern corner of the state, where the bulk of wolf packs are located. The southeastern corner of the state was mostly quiet until 2014, when the Tucannon Pack formed in the Blue Mountains. The pack has been mostly well-behaved. However, this spring it was blamed for killing a weeks-old calf in Asotin County. The news traveled quickly through the ranching community.
“I think we want to know we might have a flotation device that might work,” Holzmiller said.
Holzmiller, who also sits on the state’s Wolf Advisory Group, said over the past year and a half the group and the department have made significant progress in determining when and how to respond to wolf depredations.
“I’m still a little concerned, but I’m very, very optimistic from where we were 18 months ago to where we are now,” he said.
That progress includes the nearly completed protocol that will spell out when the department can kill wolves that repeatedly prey on cattle and other livestock.
Joey McCanna, the state’s wildlife conflict supervisor, said the protocol is still a work in progress, but should be finished by June 1. Under the working draft, lethal control can be considered if a pack kills animals four or more times in a calendar year, and if the affected rancher has actively removed any dead animals and taken one or more additional steps designed to reduce predation.
Known as sanitation plus one, the requirement is designed to make sure wolves are not attracted by dead livestock and to demonstrate to those opposed to killing wolves that ranchers have tried nonlethal measures before a lethal take is considered.
“The sanitation plus one is really important,” he said. “It’s rewarding for the producers to do sanitation plus one.”
One predation deterrent that has worked well in northeastern Washington is the use of range riders. Jay Kehne, a Fish and Wildlife commissioner from Omak and an outreach associate for the conservation group Conservation Northwest, said the group has worked with ranchers to employ range riders. He said the combination of keeping frequent human presence near cattle while on summer range and removing the carcasses of any dead animals is effective at reducing predation, but does not completely eliminate it.
“This is not a no-loss game,” he said. “Livestock are going to be lost. The goal is as little as possible.”
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