Following a public meeting that announced how Stevens County law enforcement is planning to respond to wolf kills, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has offered to help train local deputies on recognizing wolf depredation.
The offer was made after a county plan was vocalized to provide response and investigation of wolf complaints in the county, much like the current system in Wallowa County, Oregon.
Wallowa County law enforcement started their own investigative task force last year after livestock owners continued to have problems with state game officials regarding confirmation of wolf depredations.
Like Washington, the Grey Wolf is still protected as an endangered species under state law in Oregon. The state Endangered Species status protects the animal and limits control methods.
Once a federally listed Endangered Species, the wolf has made a recovery in many parts of the country and was delisted in Montana, Idaho, Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington in 2010.
According to WDFW Public Affairs Officer Madonna Luers, WDFW has contracted retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist Carter Niemeyer to provide a second round of training on identification of wildlife depredation on livestock this spring for WDFW biologists and enforcement officers. County law enforcement will also be invited to the training.
â€śNiemeyer is a trapper and hunter who coordinated wolf recovery and management in Idaho and has probably handled, investigated depredations by, and killed as many wolves as anyone in the west,â€ť said Luers. â€śAs he did a few years ago for our staff, Neimeyer will probably be using slides, videos, field examples, track & scat guides, checklists and other tools to show how to recognize wolf kills.â€ť
The training will also highlight the difference between wolf kills and other predators.
â€śTrained respondents know how to look for evidence around and on prey carcasses to learn what killed the animal, including tracks, teeth marks, etc.,â€ť she said. â€śWild predators kill and consume prey in different ways. For example, cougars are individual ambush predators, targeting an individual prey animal quietly and killing it very quickly, usually leaving puncture wounds behind the skull, and often dragging and lightly burying (under leaves or logs) what they canâ€™t consume immediately. Wolves are group coursing predators that run down a group of prey, detect the slowest or weakest, and attack and kill more slowly, usually leaving signs of massive, blunt trauma to body core areas.
â€śThere is a lot more to this, just like in crime scene investigations, and thatâ€™s why the training is needed,â€ť she added.
Confirmation doesnâ€™t mean compensation
However, having a local or state official confirm an animal was killed by a predator does not mean that the livestock owner will be immediately compensated by the state.
At present, state law (RCW 77.36 and WAC 232-36) allows owners of commercial livestock (cattle, sheep, and horses held or raised by a person for sale) to be compensated by the state for animals killed or injured by bears, cougars, and wolves if required conditions are met.
To qualify for compensation, livestock owners must have gross sales of at least $10,000 during the preceding tax year, a minimum of $500 in damage, used self-help preventative measures (including non-lethal methods and department-provided materials) prior to the depredation, and exhausted other compensation options from non-profit organizations. Compensation cannot be redundant with payments made by non-profit organizations and will not be paid if the damages are covered by insurance.
However, the Washington State Legislature has not yet provided funding for this program so any claims that meet the conditions are likely to go unanswered.
A special compensation program has been set up for wolf kills, however, and is partially funded by federal dollars.
In 2010 the WDFW received a $15,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided under the 2009 Wolf Loss Demonstration Project Bill.
According to Luers, these funds helped to develop a somewhat different compensation system for wolf depredation with the help of the WDFW Wolf Working Group that included citizen advisors, including livestock producers.
Under the new wolf system, compensation for confirmed losses to wolves are paid at full current market value for two animals for each confirmed depredation on grazing sites of 100 or more acres, and where the agency determines that it would be difficult to survey the entire acreage.
It would not include double payment if all other animals are accounted for. On sites of less than 100 acres, full current market value for each confirmed depredation. Losses will be covered on both private and public lands. On sites of less than 100 acres, half the current market value for each probable depredation.
While the WDFW may not accept a county officialâ€™s independent confirmation of a wolf kill, Luers said the department is willing to work with trained responders.
â€śWDFW welcomes the assistance of trained responders and will consult with all involved before WDFW makes the final determination,â€ť she said.
Stevens County Commissioner Don Dashiell said while the county will likely accept the WDFWâ€™s offer to be included in their training, the county is still pursuing the â€śbest resources to give us the best toolsâ€ť to address the wolf issue.
â€śWe will welcome whatever training they offer, but we still want an independent review,â€ť said Dashiell. For their part, the county is encouraging residents to call the county dispatch number, 684-2555, to report wolf problems or other predator concerns.