A rancher and state wildlife officials working to herd a flock of 1,800 sheep away from the site of recent wolf attacks in southern Stevens County today received authorization to shoot wolves that approach the flock.
Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, on Wednesday authorized livestock owner Dave Dashiell, of Hunters, and agency field staff to use limited lethal measures and preventative steps to avoid additional attacks on the flock.
Since Aug. 14, WDFW has confirmed that wolves killed 16 sheep in four separate incidents on leased forest land near Hunters, a small community about 48 miles northwest of Spokane. The latest attack occurred the night of Aug. 18.
Nine other sheep found prior to Aug. 14 had decomposed to the point where the cause of death could not be determined.
Signals from a radio collar attached to a male wolf in the Huckleberry Pack show the animal was at the site, likely with other pack members, when the attacks occurred, said Nate Pamplin, WDFW wildlife program director.
Necropsies of the carcasses confirmed the sheep were killed by wolves, he said.
"The rancher has four large guard dogs and camps alongside his flock at night," Pamplin said. "Yet, the attacks have continued, even after the department sent four members of our wildlife-conflict staff and an experienced range-rider to help guard the sheep and begin moving them out of the area."
To further protect his sheep, the livestock owner has removed the carcasses of dead animals where possible to do so and kept his flock on the move around the grazing areas, Pamplin said.
"Dave Dashiell has worked closely with WDFW field staff to find solutions to this situation," Pamplin said. "We really appreciate his efforts and his cooperation in working toward a shared goal."
To support those efforts, Anderson directed WDFW wildlife staff to:
-- Help the livestock owner find an alternative grazing area away from the Huckleberry Pack.
-- Capture and collar additional wolves in the pack to provide additional information on their movements.
-- Be prepared to shoot wolves in the vicinity of the livestock owner's sheep. Neither WDFW staff, nor the livestock owner, who was also authorized to shoot wolves in the vicinity, will actively hunt the wolves or attempt to draw them into range.
"Observing a wolf in the wild is a fairly rare thing," Pamplin said. "Given the escalating pattern of attacks on this flock of sheep, it's safe to assume in this situation that any wolves in the vicinity of that flock pose a direct risk to those animals."
In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal list of endangered species in the eastern third of the state, but the species is still protected under Washington state law. The state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and state laws set the parameters for responding to wolf predation on livestock.
"Our preferred option is to help the livestock owner move the sheep to another area, but finding a place to graze 1,800 animals presents a challenge," Pamplin said. "We'll continue to do everything we can to avoid further conflict."
The Huckleberry Pack, confirmed as the state's seventh wolf pack in June 2012, is known to have at least six members and perhaps as many as a dozen. There is no documented evidence that the pack, named after nearby Huckleberry Mountain, has preyed on livestock until now.
Columbia Basin Bulletin
The Columbia Basin Bulletin e-mail newsletter is produced by Intermountain Communications of Bend, Oregon and supported with Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife funds through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.
Articles republished by The Dalles Chronicle with permission.