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Wolf supporters in Washington are celebrating a lack of wolf/livestock conflict incidents since last July before livestock are turned out on open range this spring. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been busy working with livestock producers talking about ways to prevent conflicts between wolves and their animals. To date WDFW has twenty-nine signed damage prevention cooperative agreements with producers which outline mandatory non-lethal, preventative practices producers need to implement before they could be compensated for any livestock losses, or before WDFW would consider killing wolves depredating livestock. As wolves move into unoccupied wolf habitat in southeast and southwest Washington, and the North Cascades, preventing conflicts will be the key to keeping wolf recovery on track in Washington.
Cause of death
Human caused mortality continues to be a big concern for Washington’s recovering wolves. Seven Washington wolves were killed in 2013; six out of the seven due to humans including illegal and legal kill (Spokane Indian Reservation lands), vehicle collision, and alleged self-defense during ungulate hunting season in the North Cascades. The one non-human caused death was a yearling female killed by a cougar. Examining this mortality more closely is even more alarming since two of the six human caused mortalities occurred in the North Cascades Recovery Region, where wolves are still protected by federal as well as state law, and where recovery was already slowed by the unfortunate poaching of several members of the Lookout Pack in 2009. Three years passed before the Lookout Pack produced pups – three years we can’t afford to lose in this recovery region. In addition, the three wolves killed in the North Cascades Recovery Region were all females, further exacerbating the potential for recovery in this critical recovery region. So far, in 2014, two wolves are known to have died; a female hit by a car (human-caused) and a male killed by a cougar. As we look at projected trajectories for growth of Washington’s wolf population, these details become even more alarming. Wolves are increasing in Washington, but it is critical to tease out which wolves are being lost along the way.
Oregon: congratulations to Journey!
The big news out of Oregon is OR-7 (alias Journey) ‘s success at finally finding a mate and having pups; the first time since the mid-1940’s since wolves have reproduced in the Oregon Cascades. After traveling hundreds of miles in over three years, OR-7 and his mystery mate denned in southwest Washington, close to the California border. Two pups were observed and more suspected, but biologists will be giving the new family space before returning to potentially put another radio collar on one of the parents, as OR-7’s collar batteries are wearing out. Given that California Fish and Game Commission voted to give wolves state endangered protection on the very day news of the pups broke, California will hopefully be a more welcoming territory for any pups that travel south to set up house.
Lower death rate under Oregon new law
Oregon’s wolves have not tangled much with livestock this year so far either. No wolves were killed by ODFW for depredating livestock in 2013 due to the new law requiring four depredation incidents within a six month time period, and a producer already implementing non-lethal preventative measures before a depredation event can count towards the four incidents. The Imnaha Pack has one strike against it for killing one sheep in late January, and may be implicated in a recent depredation event where three lambs were killed and 20 injured. The ramp-up of non-lethal measures required by Oregon’s law appears to be working to reduce deaths of both livestock and wolves, providing a rare win-win for folks on both sides of the wolf/livestock conflict issue.