The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed another wolf pack in Stevens County last month, bringing the tally in the Tri-county region up to five.
WDFW confirmed the new â€śHuckleberry Packâ€ť on June 29, naming the five gray wolf pups after Huckleberry Mountain near Fruitland.
The new pack is Washingtonâ€™s seventh confirmed wolf pack, including the recently documented Ncâ€™icn pack on the Colville Confederated Tribesâ€™ reservation.
An additional five packs are also suspected in the state, according to WDFW.
Now that the Huckleberry Pack has been confirmed, WDFW biologists will work to trap and radio collar the wolves to help document total wolf numbers.
The number of wolves is an important figure both to the WDFW and the residents who have to co-exist with the wolf.
The Grey Wolf is currently listed as an engendered species in Washington State, despite being delisted in the eastern part of the state by the federal government in May 2011. The species remains federally listed as endangered in the western two-thirds of the state.
According to the WDFW Wolf Plan, the animal can only be delisted as a state endangered species when 15 pair of wolves have been established in three areas of the state for three years. The wolf can also be delisted anytime there are 18 breeding pairs in the state at the same time.
WDFW Regional Director and wolf policy lead Steve Pozzanghera said that with the current rate of pack increase, the target number of 18 packs may be achievable sooner rather than later.
â€śA lot of people talk about the 15 pairs option for delisting, but we also have the provision that would allow us to delist at 18 pairs,â€ť he said. â€śWith the current growth rate and natural expansion, it is conceivable we could reach that number in one yearâ€™s time.â€ť
Concerns over depredation
As the number of wolves increase, it is likely that livestock and pet owners will see some impact from the wolfâ€™s presence.
Close to the time the new wolf pack was documented, WDFW investigated an attack on domestic sheep in northwestern Spokane County, near Nine Mile Falls.
State officials confirmed the attack was from a wolf based on tracks and carcass trauma.
Cattlemen and Stevens County Commissioner Don Dashiell, who lives near the new Huckleberry pack, said while area producers have been cooperating with WDFW so far, there are serious concerns about impacts to livestock in his area.
â€śHere on the west side of the Huckleberry range, we have roughly 3,500 head of cattle and 3,000 to 4,000 head of sheep, so that makes for a pretty good prey base,â€ť said Dashiell.
â€śThe WDFW has said it is their job to protect the wolf and it is the stockmanâ€™s job to protect their livestock. So if thatâ€™s the case, then it is game on.â€ť
Dashiell noted that Stevens County has created a special database within its police dispatch center for wolf-related complaints. Call 684-2555 with reports.
If a producer or livestock owner does suffer losses due to wolf depredation, there is a process for applying for reimbursement.
â€śThe primary goal of the new management plan is to protect gray wolves as they naturally re-establish themselves in Washington,â€ť Pozzanghera said. â€śBut the plan also provides for compensation when landowners lose livestock to wolf depredation.â€ť
The process for reimbursement starts with the producer contacting WDFW to investigate the possible depredation. WDFW currently has funds available to cover bear, cougar and wolf depredations.
Once the type of predator is confirmed, the owner can fill out forms requesting reimbursement and a reimbursement amount can be determined within state financial thresholds. The ceiling for reimbursement for cattle is $1,500 per animal, $1,500 per horse and $200 per sheep.
According to state statute RCW 77.36.130, this would only cover depredation from livestock producers.
However, WDFW is currently planning to cover the gap for non-commercial producers and other stock depredations besides cattle, horses or sheep from federal dollars allotted for wolf reimbursement.
Pozzanghera said ranchers who believe they have lost livestock to predation by any kind of wild animal can contact WDFW immediately at 1-877-933-9847.
â€śThe sooner we can investigate the situation, the better our chances are of determining why the animal died, if a wolf was the predator and if compensation is warranted,â€ť he said. â€śWe also ask that landowners protect the site from disturbances and keep scavengers away by covering the carcass with a tarp.â€ť
Pozzanghera said WDFW field staff will continue to monitor known wolf packs and look for new ones throughout the state.
A map showing wolf packs, confirmed and suspected, in Washington is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/.