Sunday, August 23, 2015

WDFW draws a line against Huckleberry wolf pack

Don Jenkins
Capital Press
Don Jenkins/Capital Press Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello talks to the media Aug. 4 at the Teanaway Community Forest in Central Washington about wolf management. Martorello said Aug. 21 that WDFW will lethally remove wolves in the Huckleberry pack in northeastern Washington if the pack's northern group is responsible for another depredation.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says the Huckleberry wolfpack will be thinned if there's one more depredation.

One more depredation by a troublesome pack in northeast Washington will lead to the lethal removal of wolves, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife official said Friday.

Seriously injuring a sheep dog this month in Stevens County will count as a strike against the Huckleberry pack, which killed at least 26 sheep last summer belonging to the dog’s owner, rancher Dave Dashiell.

Donny Martorello, WDFW’s wolf policy coordinator, said Dashiell has tried everything possible — lights, alarms, dogs, fences and more human presence — to deter wolves. “If we get a second depredation there will be a recognition that we have put those things on the landscape and that the depredations are continuing,” Martorello said.

Martorello and other WDFW officials outlined in a conference call with the department’s wolf advisory group non-lethal efforts to protect livestock from the Huckleberry pack, which has split into north and south groups.

The red line drawn by WDFW applies only to the north group, which was blamed for injuring the dog. If the south group attacks livestock or guard dogs, “I think we would take a pause and review everything we know,” Martorello said in an interview.

Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Justin Hedrick said WDFW was being too lenient, considering the pack’s record.

Because of last summer’s depredations, WDFW authorized shooting up to four wolves. One female wolf was killed before WDFW suspended the operation because the sheep were no longer in the pack’s territory. “I don’t understand why there’s a reset button,” Hedrick said during the conference call. “Why would you wait for two (depredations) when this pack has already been eligible for lethal removal?”

Martorello said WDFW was trying to apply its policies in a case that pushed the department into new territory. WDFW generally will consider lethal removal after four depredations involving a pack. The Huckleberry pack has been involved in more than four depredations, but the incidents were separated by months.

Shawn Cantrell, Defenders of Wildlife’s Northwest director, said lethal removal may be the right move if there’s another depredation, but WDFW should have waited to make that decision. “I would like them to allow for more flexibility. The circumstances are hard to predict,” he said. “I’m pleased the department is continuing to invest in non-lethal measures to prevent a second depredation. I think that’s what everybody wants.”

Dashiell estimated he lost more than 200 sheep to wolves last year. He said Friday that he’s lost about seven sheep this year, though WDFW has not confirmed any were killed by wolves. Three sheep were attacked by cougars, WDFW concluded.

Dashiell said he moved most of his sheep to a feedlot outside the county and is spending more than $10,000 a month on hay. The sheep dog was guarding a small flock near his house. He said he’s ready to sell his herd and that the area is heading toward becoming a wolf sanctuary without a livestock industry. “I don’t want to be the first domino to fall, but that’s looking like how it is,” Dashiell said. “It’s just pretty ugly, is how it is.”

Elsewhere in Washington this summer, wolves in the Dirty Shirt pack, also in Stevens County, have killed three cows and one calf. The Teanaway pack in Kittitas County killed a yearling Angus.