Last month, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife removed three wolves after reported livestock depredations. One of the wolves in a case of potentially mistaken identity was a juvenile that may have been removed from the wrong pack.
WDFW’s Smackout pack update reads, “It was unintentional to remove a wolf pup rather than an adult. Staff who saw the wolf evaluated it and based on their professional opinion thought it was an adult from a distance. Following removal, they saw it was a pup.”
The juvenile wolf taken by WDFD was the first of three incrementally culled wolves by the department. In August, the Smackout pack was attributed to six livestock depredations. A Stevens County producer also reported five livestock depredations in the territory of a wolf pack dubbed “Leadpoint.”
The depredations on livestock in Stevens County occurred despite the rancher’s use of non-lethal deterrent methods including two range riders from the Cattle Producers of Washington and proper carcass disposal. WDFW staff also deployed a RAG box and several Fox lights in the area where two confirmed wolf depredation events occurred.
Nearly one month after the first Leadpoint pack depredation occurred, WDFD Director Kelly Susewind authorized lethal removal for up to two wolves from the Leadpoint pack territory. On September 27, the department lethally removed an adult male from the Leadpoint pack territory. On September 28, they removed an adult female from the pack’s territory. The department indicates that if more depredations occur, they may initiate another lethal removal action.
The removal of a pup instead of an adult, and the length of time between depredations and wolf removal, has a group known as Cattle Producers of Washington questioning the efficacy of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, according to the Capital Press.
Any removal of wolves must follow the state’s 2011 Wolf Management Plan. Since the reintroduction of wolves to the West, ranchers have argued that compensation rules for depredation incidents do not adequately account for the future value of cattle lost. In addition to the future value lost when a breeding animal is killed, the impacts of stress caused by wolf attacks and presence isn’t properly accounted for. According to a study published in the Journal of Animal Science, OSU animal scientist Reinaldo Cooke says, “Wolf attacks create bad memories in the herd and cause a stress response known to result in decreased pregnancy rates, lighter calves and a greater likelihood of getting sick.”
WDFW’s conflict staff say they are attempting to measure the stress level of cattle grazed in wolf country in support of the Conflict on Workinglands Conservation Innovation Grant’s research team. The team is evaluating the efficacy of range riders. In addition to trail camera deployment and data collection, researchers will also be shaving tails of cattle to collect hair samples and measure cortisol levels this fall.