Statement on Smackout Wolf Pack
ConservationNWAdmin / Jul 20, 2017 / Wolves
Lethal removal of Smackout pack members initiated after multiple depradations
On Thursday morning, July 20th, 2017, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced that due to recurring depredations on livestock exceeding the thresholds outlined in the state’s Protocol for Wolf-Livestock Interactions, the Department has initiated incremental lethal removal of members of the Smackout Wolf Pack.
In a report on incidents to date, the Department detailed the extensive preventative and responsive actions taken by the ranchers within this pack’s territory. They also described a recent caught-in-the act incident involving a rancher within the Smackout Pack territory that occurred after several days of intense harassment and attempts to haze wolves away from livestock. That incident was investigated by WDFW Enforcement and was found to be consistent with state regulations.
While heartrending, it is our hope that this action to attempt to remove up to two members of this pack, in addition to the one already killed, will cease further livestock depredations and prevent the need for additional lethal actions, protecting the integrity and future of this pack. We see this as a test of the theory that early lethal intervention can disrupt depredating behavior.
Since 2011, Conservation Northwest has partnered with ranchers operating in Eastern Washington wolf country through the Range Rider Pilot Project to implement non-lethal measures to reduce conflicts where wolves and livestock overlap. Ranchers operating on Colville National Forest grazing allotments within the Smackout Wolf Pack territory were among the first to participate in the range rider project. For more than six years, they have been utilizing high-quality and exceedingly thorough conflict avoidance measures, including regular and at times around-the-clock human presence, carcass removal, removal of sick or injured livestock from summer grazing allotments, use of fox lights around pastures during times of high wolf activity, and more.
Based on the information provided by the Department, it is clear that the ranchers involved in this case have been doing everything possible to avoid conflicts with wolves and other predators. We are deeply saddened by the loss of these wolves, and for the strife this incident has caused ranchers operating in this area.
We remain committed to the goal of long-term recovery and public acceptance of wolves in our state alongside thriving rural communities. For years we’ve worked with WDFW and other wildlife constituents through the Wolf Advisory Group (WAG) to develop responsible wolf management policies. We strongly believe that the current Protocol for Wolf-Livestock Interactions, including agreed upon thresholds for actions to resolve persistent depredations, reflects a reasonable approach towards wolf conservation and management.
While it is extremely unfortunate to learn that persistent depredations have occurred in the Smackout area despite exhaustive preventative measures, we recognize that occasional conflicts between wolves and livestock are an expected occurrence on both public and private grazing allotments within wolf territories. As disappointing as it is that they were not ultimately successful in this incident, abundant evidence from Western states and provinces shows that range riders and other conflict avoidance measures can reduce the risks of depredations on livestock. We remain confident that these tactics are worthwhile and effective despite this latest event.
Our organization has been proud to support ranchers in the Smackout area in their efforts to reduce conflicts. Through six years of frequent interactions between wolves and livestock, their efforts were able to keep the conflict to a minimum. And we’ve been inspired by their commitment, and the dedication of other ranchers in Eastern Washington, to continue ranching alongside wolves and other native carnivores, as well as their diligence to being highly responsible stewards of the range they graze.
We’re also pleased to see many more ranchers and farmers in Eastern Washington adopting their own range riding and other proactive conflict avoidance measures. Recent data from WDFW shows that in 2017, more than 90 Washington ranchers are utilizing similar preventative measures. These growing efforts are reducing conflicts and building social tolerance for gray wolves in our state.
The Smackout Wolf Pack resides in an area of northeast Washington where gray wolves have been federally delisted, and where wolves and confirmed wolf packs are relatively numerous. Despite isolated conflicts, our wolf population continues to grow by approximately 30 percent annually in Washington, with a minimum of 115 wolves, 20 packs, and 10 successful breeding pairs documented at the end of 2016.
Additional information on Conservation Northwest’s Range Rider Pilot Project is available at www.conservationnw.org/range-riders. This collaborative effort between our organization and six Eastern Washington Ranchers works to build coexistence while protecting the lives of wolves and the livelihoods of small businesses operating in wolf country. Through this program, we also offer training, and other financial and technical support for conflict avoidance efforts.