Conservation Wildlife Management

After Wolf “Group” Consistently Kills Livestock in Northwest, Officials Consider Lethal Removal

Under agency protocol, lethal removal is on the table if wolves kill four livestock in 10 months or less, among other stipulations
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Wolves from the WA139 group traveled back and forth between Washington and Oregon in early 2023. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife / Flickr

A group of gray wolves traveling through southeastern Washington into northeastern Oregon is causing a stir among ranchers, a handful of whom have already lost livestock to the wolves, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reported Friday. Now the group of wolves (which hasn’t yet met the state’s criteria to be considered an official pack) is under scrutiny for its behavior and might face a lethal response.

Wolf group WA139 split off from the Tucannon Pack, led by a collared wolf who strayed from the Tucannon territory, in January 2023. The pack’s territory covers a cross-section of Asotin, Garfield, and Columbia counties. Upon entering Wallowa County in northeastern Oregon, the spur group killed seven livestock and injured an eighth, according to documentation from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. After re-entering Washington in March, WA139–which contained at least five wolves in late winter—was linked to the following mortality events in Asotin County:

  • May 21 – confirmed kill of two calves and probable kill of a third, private land 
  • June 20 – confirmed kill of one heifer, private land
  • July 31 – probable kill of one calf, U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment
  • August 15 – confirmed kill of one calf, private land

As a result, these depredation events (four confirmed, six probable) triggered WDFW’s Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol, the state’s guiding procedure for handling such conflicts. But WA139 didn’t just meet the first criteria for lethal removal; they overwhelmingly exceeded it. The group would have needed to commit four depredation events in 10 months to satisfy the guidelines. It took them less than a third of that time.

But there are other criteria that must be met for WDFW to consider lethal removal of wolves, according to the protocol. They are: 

  • Failed attempts at other deterrence measures 
  • The expectation that livestock depredations will otherwise continue if nothing is done
  • Agency documentation of attempted deterrence measures that’s been made available to the public
  • Expectations that lethal removal won’t harm the wolf population’s ability to reach recovery objectives statewide or within wolf recovery regions 

It’s less clear whether these other criteria have been met. WDFW keeps a robust running tab of both wolf activity and agency and landowner responses in their monthly gray wolf updates, which the public can sign up to receive via email. As for attempts at other deterrence measures, it’s unclear what action has been taken in Asotin County over the last few months. 

WDFW wildlife specialists are “compiling information” about the attacks and prior attempts at deterrence, WDFW Eastern region wildlife program manager Seth Thompson tells the Lewiston Tribune. He notes that the agency is exploring both lethal and non-lethal options.

“The district team will put their recommendation together based on factors on the ground and factors spelled out in the Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol and then go to region’s director Mike Kuttle, Jr.,” he said. “From there it would go to director [Kelly] Susewind.”

Read Next: Cougars Are Killing Gray Wolves in Washington State

Wolves in the eastern third of Washington are not federally listed under the Endangered Species Act like they are in the western two-thirds. As a result, their management in the region falls to WDFW. The region includes some of the top cattle-producing counties in the state, including parts of Grant, Benton, and Franklin counties. If WDFW decides to use lethal control for members of the WA139 group, the Tribune reports, it will be the first time such a decision has been made in the southeastern region of the state.