The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says the number of wolves in the state has increased to at least 52 in 13 packs. At the same time, the number of livestock deaths attributed to wolves has decreased.
MOSES LAKE, Wash. — While Washington’s wolf population increased by at least one last year, officials of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife say the number of cattle that were killed decreased.
Department carnivore section manager Donny Martorello told the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on Saturday the estimated number of wolves and wolf packs has increased. Last year, the department estimated 51 to 101 wolves were in the state. This year, the minimum increased to 52, based on the number of wolves seen by department staff.
“I do believe the number is higher, but we don’t know exactly by how much,” Martorello said. “We had good production this last year in a number of packs.”
The department estimates there were 13 wolf packs in 2013, up from nine in 2012. Wolves from the Smackout Pack in northeastern Stevens County split into four separate packs, including the Ruby Creek, the Dirty Shirt and the Carpenter-Ridge packs.
Packs are defined as two or more wolves traveling together.
The department investigated 20 livestock depredations in 2013, said conflict program manager Stephanie Simek. Of those, four were caused by wolves, one by an undetermined predator and five were undetermined causes.
The confirmed wolf attacks in 2013 left one calf dead and three dogs injured, according to the department. In 2012, wolves killed seven calves and one sheep, and six calves and two sheep were injured, according to the department. Most of those attacks were attributed to the Wedge Pack. The department killed seven wolves in that pack to stop the attacks. Two remaining members are traveling as a pack in the same area, according to the department.
Of the 10 non-wolf deaths, five were caused by wild carnivores such as cougars and coyotes and five were attributed to other causes, including domestic dogs, falling, drowning and ravens or eagles.
Simek said one calf death was caused by ravens and one by eagles and ravens. Bird attacks are not common in Washington but are more frequent in other states, Simek said.
The department supports a proposal to remove the wolf from the endangered species list under the federal Endangered Species Act, Martorello said. Wolves are considered endangered in the western two-thirds of the state but have been delisted in the eastern one-third of the state.
However, wolves will continue to be protected under the state Endangered Species law until there are 15 successful breeding pairs for three consecutive years, evenly distributed throughout three recovery regions in the state, or 18 successful breeding pairs evenly distributed for one year.
A successful breeding pair is a male and female pair that raises two pups that survive to the end of the year. There are presently five successful breeding pairs residing in two recovery regions.
In other wolf-related topics:
• An investigation into the Feb. 9 shooting death of a female wolf in northern Stevens County is continuing, Martorello said. It was once part of the Smackout Pack.
• Simek said the department plans to research wolf and livestock interaction with Washington State University’s Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory, continue working with a wolf advisory group and sharing outreach information with conservation districts and WSU Extension.
• The department is developing a pilot carcass removal program with Conservation Northwest and Washington conservation districts. The project will consider ways to help ranchers remove bones and compost carcasses, Simek said.
She believes ranchers are recognizing that they will need to make some adjustments to minimize conflict. Most livestock producers are already performing the necessary tasks, Simek said.
“The last thing we want is someone’s livelihood to be impacted,” she said. “There’s no silver bullet, we’re still going to have conflict. The idea is to hopefully minimize it so it’s not so devastating to everyone. People realize this is the lifestyle now, the landscape now.”
An overview of the wolf report is available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/
A full report will be available by April 4.