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Statement on Revised Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol

Jun 02, 2017
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As a member of Washington’s Wolf Advisory Group (WAG), and an active participant in the collaborative process to update our state’s Protocol for Wolf-Livestock Interactions, Conservation Northwest supports the updated protocol released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) on June 1, 2017.

Statement on Revised Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol

A black wolf on a forest road in northeast Washington. As of early 2017, Washington now has a minimum of 115 known wolves in 20 confirmed packs including at least 10 breeding pairs. Photo: WDFW

We support the revised protocol as an important collaborative policy that ensures a future with healthy, sustainable wolf populations and thriving rural communities.

As a member of Washington’s Wolf Advisory Group (WAG), and an active participant in the collaborative process to update our state’s Protocol for Wolf-Livestock Interactions, Conservation Northwest supports the updated protocol released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) on June 1, 2017.

“This updated protocol is the product of months of coordination between biologists, conservationists, livestock producers, hunters, and other wildlife stakeholders on and off the Wolf Advisory Group and WDFW,” said Paula Swedeen, Ph.D., a WAG representative and Carnivore Policy Lead for Conservation Northwest. “We strongly believe that these policies reflect a balanced approach to wolf conservation and management that supports long-term wolf recovery in our state while also meeting the needs of local communities and small businesses operating in wolf country.” 

“This version incorporates lessons learned from the 2016 grazing season,” said Swedeen. “The ability to continue to jointly solve issues around wolf management among diverse stakeholders shows that coexistence is possible and maintaining respectful dialogue leads to better conservation outcomes.”

The latest protocol also further emphasizes proactive, non-lethal deterrents to reduce or prevent conflicts with wolves. While the need to use proactive non-lethal deterrents was part of the 2016 protocol, the 2017 version includes more detail and emphasis on tools, intent, and expectations around implementation of those deterrents prior to the Department considering lethal take of wolves. 

“In 2017, we’re seeing a dramatic uptake in ranchers utilizing proactive deterrence measures over the past several years, and this has come through relationship-building and respect for rural communities and producers,” said Swedeen. “Use of those proactive methods is vital for coexistence, and the updated protocol better recognizes that.”

According to data from WDFW, the number of producers who have signed up for Damage Prevention Cooperative Agreements or who are being covered by Department range riders (contract range riders) has increased from 20 in 2013 to 90 in 2017.

In the 2017 version of the protocol, livestock producers are expected to implement at least two proactive deterrence measures that are appropriate to their operation instead of “sanitation plus one additional measure” that was required in the 2016 protocol. This change clarifies that sanitation, while important, may not be relevant in a particular situation, so allows for application of other more effective measures. In addition, the qualifier “at least” was added to the language to allow for the possibility that more than two measures may be needed, and may already being practiced by producers. Local WDFW conflict specialists will work with producers in known wolf territories prior to depredations occurring to determine the appropriate measures for a particular operation. The conflict specialists need to concur that the measures are both suited for the situation and are in place for an adequate amount of time. 

“Wolf recovery is progressing in our state, and so our policies for conserving and managing this iconic species need to progress as well,” said Swedeen. “We support this protocol as an important collaborative policy that ensures a future in Washington with healthy, sustainable wolf populations and thriving rural communities.”

 The full Protocol is available in PDF format on the WDFW website at: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/livestock/final_protocol_for_wolf-livestock_interactions_jun012017.pdf  

Further details from Revised Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol:

1. Range Riding and Other Human Presence: There is strong emphasis in the revised protocol on using range riders or other appropriate human presence on large grazing allotments. The Department is working to make sure that all priority areas (for example wolf packs that overlap public lands, and wolf packs who have had a history of depredations in past years) have adequate human presence through providing both financial and technical assistance. For more information on range riding, visit: www.conservationnw.org/range-riders

2. Responsive Deterrents: The Department will work with producers to increase deployment of responsive deterrence measures after a depredation occurs. This is the same as last year and continues to be an important part of trying to avoid the need to use lethal removal by halting further depredations through non-lethal measures.

3. Lethal Initiated Later if Appropriate Deterrence Measures Not Employed: If the expectations for deployment of both proactive and responsive measures laid out in the revised protocol are not met, the Department will not consider lethal take at the specified thresholds, nor without attempts to use deterrence measures to end the depredations (see below).

4. Changed Thresholds for Initiating Lethal: In cases where the expectations for deployment of both proactive and responsive deterrence measures laid out in the revised protocol are met, the thresholds for initiating wolf lethal control include an acute and a chronic scenario: 

  • a. The acute threshold is three livestock depredations, including up to one probable, during a rolling 30 day period. 
  • b. The chronic threshold is four depredations in a rolling ten month period, including up to one probable depredation. 
  • c. In both cases, one of the confirmed depredations needs to be a kill (i.e., all confirmed depredations can’t be non-fatal injuries to livestock), and in order for a probable to count, it needs to be close in space and time to the confirmed depredations. In other words, not every instance of a probable would meet this criteria and therefore count towards the lethal threshold.  In addition, the Department has described their depredation classification  practices such that there is now a relatively high degree of certainty that a probable depredation is caused by wolves. 
  • d. The intent of having both a three depredations in 30 days option, and counting up to one probable depredation, is to attempt to intervene in a depredation situation earlier in order to prevent the entire pack from becoming accustomed to preying on livestock, with the overall intent of having to lethally remove fewer wolves.

5. Shorter Time Frames for Considering Lethal: The above time frames are shorter than what was used in the 2016 protocol, which was four depredations in one calendar year or six in two calendar years.

6. Application of lethal thresholds only to Eastern Washington Recovery Zone: These thresholds only apply to the Eastern Washington recovery zone. Should the other two recovery zones (North Cascades and South Cascades / Pacific Coast), which are currently under the management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, become federally delisted while this protocol is in effect, the lethal thresholds would not be applied to packs that are a resource concern, or if their application would impede reaching recovery goals in these two regions.

7. More Documentation: The Department has committed to providing summaries of the depredation investigations and a description of proactive or responsive deterrence measures, including an assessment of why the measures are appropriate, after each depredation. While some of this information was made available last year, the Department will include more descriptive detail that allows the public to better understand the quality of deterrents and the reasoning behind the depredation classifications. . The Director’s rationale and decision for initiating lethal will also be made public prior to initiating a lethal operation.

8. Incremental Lethal Control: The protocol puts a limit of one to two wolves on the initial number of wolves that can be killed. They also consider the attempt to lethally remove wolves as having the potential to change behavior of a depredating pack.  After an initial attempt and potential killing of one to two wolves, the Department will pause to see if depredations stop and will resume implementation of non-lethal deterrents. If depredations resume, the Department may continue with lethal control with another incremental kill of pack members. This approach is more defined than the 2016 protocol in its intent to use lethal as a means to stop depredations while killing as few wolves as possible. It explicitly notes that if no wolves are killed in the process and depredating behavior stops, that is a successful operation. The point is not to kill wolves but to change pack behavior to end livestock depredations.

Conservation Northwest has been the leading local non-profit organization working on wolf recovery and coexistence in Washington more than a decade. To learn more about our work for Washington’s Wolves, visit www.conservationnw.org/wolves, or follow us on Facebook at Washington’s Wolves
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