By Ann McCreary

The Methow Valley will be included in a research program that will investigate non-lethal interventions to reduce conflicts between livestock and wolves.

The Lookout Pack is one of six packs in eastern Washington that will be monitored as part of the research program, which is funded through a $600,000 appropriation from the Washington state legislature and led by researchers from Washington State University (WSU).

Cattle producers in the Methow Valley will also be asked to participate in the research, which is getting underway this spring and expected to last at least two years.

“We will be radio collaring wolves and cows and ear-tagging calves … to determine mortality rates due to wolves,” said Robert Wielgus, director of WSU’s Large Carnivore Conservation Lab and the program lead.

Wildlife officials will attempt to put a radio collar on a member of the Lookout Pack as part of the research and ongoing efforts by state wildlife officials to monitor wolves.

Scott Becker, a wolf biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said he will make an effort to collar a Lookout Pack wolf in May, when the pack may be staying close to a natal den and easier to locate.

There is “a high probability” that the female will produce a litter in April, Becker said.

Teams of researchers will monitor and collect data on six wolf packs in eastern Washington and two cattle herds in the vicinity of each pack, with several objectives, including:

• Determining the underlying causes of why some wolf packs engage in livestock depredation and others do not, and test the hypothesis that depredations are associated with factors such as vegetation, herd composition, timing of grazing, prey abundance, and wolf population demography.

• Determining the actual kill rates by wolves and losses of livestock by monitoring both wolves and cattle.

• Determining the indirect effects of wolf harassment on cattle, such as weight and pregnancy loss in cattle, and cattle avoidance of grazing areas occupied by wolves.

• Determining the effectiveness of various non-lethal interventions such as range riders, guard dogs, fladry (strips of fabric or colored flags suspended from a fence), biofencing and carcass removals on livestock depredation and indirect effects on cattle.

In addition to the Lookout Pack, the research will focus on the Teanaway and Wenatchee packs located in the North Cascades and the Smackout, Diamond and Ruby packs in northeastern Washington.

Partners in the research program include WSU, WDFW, Western Wildlife Outreach, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Also in the News this week: Study: State’s gray wolf population steady in 2013