Washington wildlife managers rule the Sherman pack killed a calf, not a wolfpack that already has a record of depredations that could trigger lethal removal.
Wildlife officials have blamed the Sherman wolfpack rather than the Profanity Peak pack for killing a calf in northeast Washington, a finding that could delay a decision on whether to resume shooting wolves to protect livestock.
GPS collars signaled both packs were in the area before the calf was killed, but a Sherman wolf was there closer to the time the calf’s remains were found June 12, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The depredation is the first confirmed wolf attack on livestock this year in Washington and the first ever attributed to the Sherman pack. WDFW policy calls for the department to consider culling a pack that attacks livestock three times within 30 days, or four times within 10 months.
It’s unclear how WDFW would have responded to a depredation by the Profanity pack.
The pack already has been blamed for at least five depredations in the past 10 months, though none since WDFW shot seven of 11 pack members. WDFW had planned to remove the entire pack, but suspended the operation last fall at the end of grazing season in the Colville National Forest.
Rancher and range rider Arron Scotten, who found the calf’s remains, said Monday that the Sherman and Profanity packs overlap and their members may commingle. The Sherman pack formed last year when a female from the Profanity Peak pack began traveling with a male wolf.
“Short of leaving a business card on the carcass, I can’t see how you can be absolutely sure it was the Sherman pack,” Scotten said.
WDFW announced its conclusion late Friday. Efforts to reach the department for further comment were unsuccessful.
The calf was killed on a Bureau of Land Management grazing allotment in an area where the Profanity Peak pack attacked cattle last year.
The packs are apparently overlapping more than last year, so it’s a tough call to assign blame, said Conservation Northwest consultant Jay Shepherd, a former WDFW depredation investigator.
“Things are fluid, but we make all these hard distinctions,” he said.
In another significant finding, WDFW concluded that it’s unknown what killed a second calf, whose scattered bones were found about 150 yards from the largely intact remains of the other calf.
If WDFW had ruled the calf was probably killed by wolves, it could have been the second strike against the Sherman pack. In previous years, only “confirmed” depredations counted against a pack. Now one “probable” depredation can be counted toward triggering lethal removal.
“The stakes have been raised, and you better be right,” Shepherd said.
Scotten supervises four other range riders who have contracted with WDFW to watch cattle owned by seven producers over four counties.
Scotten said he has been camping out since the depredation. At night, cattle have been moving from grassy fields toward his camp.
“Something’s chasing them,” he said. “I think we’re doing everything we can do.”