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Washington State News

WDFW Authorizes Lethal Removal of Smackout Wolf Following Five Attacks on Cattle

(The Center Square) – Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind has authorized lethal removal of one wolf from the Smackout pack after five attacks within the last 30 days that have left four calves dead and two injured.

Four depredations in Stevens and Pend Oreille counties since August 17 were confirmed by wildlife managers as having been done by wolves, and the fifth is considered a probable attack by the Smackout pack.

Susewind announced in a September 1 report that lethal removal was necessary because the proactive non-lethal deterrents used by three affected ranchers have not stopped attacks.

The lethal removal authorization expires when a Smackout wolf has been removed or after September 15, whichever comes first. WDFW says authorization could be extended or amended to include other wolves in the pack area if additional depredations are documented following the initial authorization or other extenuating circumstances are identified.

WDFW’s lethal removal policy allows killing wolves if they have injured or killed livestock three times within the last 30 days or four times within 10 months. The rancher must show that non-lethal measures did not work before a wolf can be euthanized.

WDFW reports that the first rancher affected by depredations from Smackout wolves had multiple range riders daily monitoring livestock on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment. That rancher had also put 20 VHF ear tags on adult cows to help track groups spread throughout the allotment. Sick or injured livestock were removed from the allotment and carcasses were properly disposed of to avoid attracting predators.

When depredations began to occur, the rancher began camping near the meadows where a large number of livestock congregated and spent several nights a week there, according to WDFW.

In addition, the rancher penned his cattle at night and spotlighted them. A Fox light was deployed on August 25 and a Radio-Activated Guard box was deployed on August 29.

This rancher removed several smaller calves from the forest when depredations began to reduce the likelihood of an attack. WDFW staff and range riders reportedly relayed high wolf-use areas to the producer after the first confirmed depredation based on collar data so he could concentrate resources in those areas.

The second affected rancher took many of the same steps, including delaying turnout of calves in the forest service allotment until mid to late July so they were larger and less vulnerable to attacks.

The third rancher worked with Cattle Producers of Washington to deploy range riders on leased private pasture. This year, WDFW reports that even more effort was put into increasing the effectiveness of a human presence on these lands through better communication and rotation of riders.

In addition to Cattle Producers, the rancher worked with Northeast Washington Wolf Cattle Collaborative and WDFW staff to monitor livestock and track wolf activity.

According to Susewind’s report, the proactive and reactive non-lethal deterrence measures implemented by these livestock producers were those best suited for their operations. Having five attacks within a two-week timeframe appeared to WDFW to be an escalation of depredation behavior, which was deemed likely to continue. 

Susewind said the decision to remove a single Smackout wolf, rather than two, is to increase chances that enough adult wolves in the pack remain to care for juvenile wolves. He said the removal of one wolf is not expected to harm the pack’s population ability to meet statewide recovery objectives.

In the past, WDFW has documented 12 to 30 wolf mortalities per year and the population has continued to grow and expand its range.

The Smackout pack was confirmed in Northeastern Washington in 2011. According to 2020 population survey, the pack had a minimum count of six wolves and was considered a successful breeding pair in 2020.

The official Washington wolf population numbers released in April show that Washington has about 206 wolves in 33 packs, with 19 successful breeding pairs.