The Stevens County Commissioners announced Tuesday that “(wolf) packs have come very close to homes in several areas of Stevens County.”
The message, sent to local radio stations and posted on the Stevens County Sheriff’s Facebook page, singled out the Orin Rice, Seigel Hill Road, Mingo Mountain, Valley Westside and Crystal Falls areas. There have been no reports of dangerous or threatening behavior.
Stevens County does not manage wolves. Instead, the animals, which are a state endangered species, are managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
County Commissioner Don Dashiell said the county has asked WDFW to warn residents if wolves are spending time near their homes. But WDFW has declined. That, Dashiell said, prompted the commission to issue the warning.
“If the game department is not going to tell anyone, I’d hate for us to have this information and then have something happen,” Dashiell said.
Donny Martorello, the wolf policy lead for WDFW, confirmed that there has been increased wolf activity in the area. But that’s not unusual during the winter, he said. As the snow piles up in the mountains, elk and deer move to lower elevations and wolves follow.
“This is normal seasonal wolf movement,” Martorello said. “We very much honor the county’s role here. If they feel like they need to do that.”
Martorello said the local government is better suited to notify citizens than WDFW, which is why the agency doesn’t normally notify people if wolves are in the area.
Jay Shepherd, a co-founder of the Northeast Washington Wolf Cattle Collaborative, lives in Chewelah. He’s seen an increase in wolf signs and encounters, but he sees it as a potential learning lesson for wolves and people.
“I think educating people on how to respond to wolf encounters is going to help both people and wolves, and their pets and their livestock,” he said. “I think how to respond to it in a legal manner would be a good educational effort.”
Those kind of efforts could include scaring the animals away, removing attractants such as food and securing animals. When Shepherd worked for WDFW he often encouraged landowners to buy an air horn to scare the canines away.
Scaring wolves away is important, Shepherd said. Wolves can become habituated to humans, which is more likely to lead to aggressive behavior. They are also attracted to dogs and can become “friends” like a wolf near Ione, Washington, did in 2014.
But it’s rare for wolves to attack – much less kill – people. Normally, the canines are timid and stay far from humans, but wolves did tree a biologist in the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest this summer. An investigation determined that the biologist accidentally stumbled upon a “rendezvous” site and the wolves were likely acting defensively to protect offspring or food sources. Rendezvous sites are home or activity sites where weaned pups are brought from the den until they are old enough to join adult wolves in hunting activity.
Not all found the announcement good-intentioned.
“What they’re trying to do is inflame the situation and make it sound like it’s dangerous for people,” said Chris Bachman, the wildlife program director for the Spokane-based Lands Council.
He emphasized that wolf attacks on humans are exceedingly rare.
This past year has been tough for wolves and cattle. For the first time, wolves from three Washington packs were in the state’s crosshairs, following repeated wolf attacks against cattle. On Friday, wolves from the Old Profanity Peak pack area were blamed for the death of two calves and a cow.
“It was a very challenging year,” Martorello said.
Correction: Due to a reporter’s error an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated wolves status on Washington’s endangered species list. Wolves are a state endangered species. The story has been corrected.
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