For the first time, a wolf wearing a radio collar crossed southern Interstate 90 into southern Washington Cascades, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists said at a meeting of the Wolf Advisory Group.
At Thursday’s meeting, biologists described the stray wolf’s route. Wolves previously crossed south of I-90. However, this is the first time that state biologists have been able to track the movements of a wolf in the area, which could help the state move closer to its wolf recovery goals.
Initially, the wolf crossed I-90 east of Cle Elum, said Ben Maletzke, statewide wolf specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
He will have a better chance of finding other wolves there than us. They kind of make sense for it, ”said Maletzke.
The department will continue to monitor the wolf’s movements, Maletzke said, especially because biologists don’t know where the wolf will end up.
“He could be in Oregon or even British Columbia in a week or two,” said Maletzke.
Gray wolves were exterminated in Washington in the 1930s. In recent years, the state has documented its first breeding pair in 2008, after wolves came to Washington from neighboring states.
In Washington, wolves are protected by state endangered species law. Gray wolves were removed from the federal endangered species list on January 4, 2021.
The state recovery plan divides the state into three distinct regions. There are two options where the state will consider salvaged wolves.
In a three-year consecutive scenario, four separate breeding pairs would live in each recovery region, with three additional breeding pairs anywhere in Washington state.
In a one-year scenario, four separate breeding pairs would live in each recovery region, with six additional breeding pairs anywhere in Washington state.
This new roving wolf could help achieve the recovery goal of the region that encompasses the waterfalls of southern Washington state and the northwest coast.
Recent snow will help biologists carry out a minimum count of wolves at the end of the year for 2021. The most recent figures for 2020 found at least 132 known wolves in 24 known packs comprising at least 13 breeding pairs. The Confederate tribes of the Colville Reservation have reported at least 46 wolves in five packs.
In 2021, a new wolf pack attacked cattle in Southeast Washington, after which Kelly Susewind, director of the Washington Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, authorized the fatal removal of two wolves from the pack. Department staff believed the pack numbered four adults and four puppies.
Two wolves were killed following the lethal deportation order. At about the same time, a vehicle struck a wolf on a gravel road; another hit a wolf on a remote county road, both in Columbia County, Maletzke said.
However, conservation groups questioned the need to kill the second wolf in the pack, after the department killed an adult male wolf and vehicles hit two other wolves.
“Taking four wolves out of a pack is a big impact,” said Paula Swedeen, policy director at Conservation Northwest and a member of the Wolf Advisory Group. “The original intention was to wipe out one or two wolves, and four wolves from that pack eventually died.”
Removing four wolves could damage the structure of the pack, Swedeen said.
“It’s not a numbers game. It’s really about maintaining the social integrity of the people by keeping the packages as intact as possible, ”she said.
At the time, wolves continued to congregate in a main grazing area for cattle. The goal of the lethal eliminations is to change the behavior of the pack, Maletzke said. However, nothing seemed to move the wolves out of the cattle grazing area, he said.
“If lethal elimination is to be used, eliminating a wolf in a pasture right around the cows is probably one of the biggest impacts you can have in trying to get those wolves out of there,” said Maletzke.
Now the new pack appears to have moved to other areas, he said.
Going forward, Swedeen said, lethal elimination protocols should take into account the total number of wolves killed in each pack, whether it’s the lethal elimination order or other accidents.
In the case of vehicle accidents, law enforcement officers checked every scene to rule out potential poaching, Maletzke said.
“There was evidence of car parts and evidence that wolves had been struck by vehicles,” said Maletzke.
The timing of accidents during the fatal deportation order is an unusual situation, Maletzke said. However, many white-tailed deer are affected in the same area, where brush often clutters the side of the road.
“Things do happen. These wolves move in an area where there are a number of roads that people take every day,” he said. “It’s a difficult area for wildlife and people to cross. not to be touched. “
Additionally, in the Blue Mountains where these incidents occurred, the Fish and Wildlife Department has been unable to hire horse riders, who help manage cattle on horseback and help deter conflict with wolves. Rangers stay with the livestock and are often used to cover large areas.
Producers have continually requested a rider for the Blue Mountain area, said Samee Charriere, a cattle breeder near Clarkston, Wash., And a member of the Wolf Advisory Group.
“We’re going to have the same problems if we don’t end up with a range driver,” said Charrière. “There’s no one going to do it. This is the main point here.
The department will continue to look for someone who can ride a horse, who has a horse and a trailer, and who does not currently have a job and can work long hours, said Joey McCanna, Wildlife Conflict Supervisor. at the Fish and Wildlife Department. .
The contract position is not full time. Potential candidates also told the ministry the work wasn’t paying enough, McCanna said, leading the ministry to pay for mileage.
“In the Blue Mountains there is a lot of travel,” said McCanna. “If we need rangers in the Grouse Flats area, and they are located in Walla Walla, it takes three hours to get there.”
It also helps hire locals who know the mountains and the terrain, McCanna said.
In the meantime, the department has brought in horsemen from other areas, such as northeast Washington. McCanna said he would like to have at least two riders under contract with Fish and Wildlife in the Blue Mountains.
“We are constantly looking for range runners,” he said.
Cattle owners on private grazing plots can hire riders as well, and the department will share half the cost, McCanna said.
Sweden said it believes the state may need to find creative ways to fill its range runner program.
“It’s not that there is a shortage, the ministry just hasn’t created the conditions to attract people willing to do the job,” she said.
In northeast Washington state, Conservation Northwest helped create a grant program to help locals manage hikers, Swedeen said. Potentially, she said, a nonprofit could manage course runners in the Blue Mountains.
“It takes will and a lot of organizational effort,” she said.
Without that kind of effort, she said, the department might have to pay runners more money.
“Everyone puts their hands up and says, ‘There just aren’t any people ready to do it, so we won’t have enough runners,’ that’s not correct ‘, Swedeen said.
Additionally, McCanna said the department has recently struggled to procure other non-lethal tools to deter predation from wolves, such as the fladry, which are colorful flags that can be tied around small pastures or calving areas to scare away wolves, and foxlights, which can be used on heavy-use watering or salting sites.
Supply chain issues combined with supplier shutdowns caused the department’s rush, he said.
Fish and Wildlife borrowed Fladry from northeast Washington. A local Colfax company built a half mile of fladry but determined it wasn’t profitable enough to continue.
“Vendors can’t make that much fladry, and there is so much need of it in every western state,” McCanna said.
After McCanna raised the issue at Thursday’s meeting, conservation group Defenders of Wildlife offered another half mile of fladry. In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services has offered to provide more service to the department.
“We just want to make sure we have enough fladry if we need it,” McCanna said.