Federal sharpshooters working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) killed their first wolf late last month, but wildlife officials just recently announced that the wolf appears to be the Huckleberry pack’s breeding female, or alpha. Named after the nearby Huckleberry Mountain, biologists say that the pack of six to 12 wolves have been terrorizing ranchers in southern Stevens County. The pack is believed to have killed at least 24 sheep since mid-August and injured several more, prompting local ranchers to round up their flocks in temporary holding pens.
Most of the killed sheep belonged to rancher Dave Dashiell, who was forced to transport his flock of 1,800 animals five miles away. To deter further attacks, the DFW authorized sharpshooters to kill up to four wolves from the Huckleberry pack.
“Unfortunately, lethal action is clearly warranted in this case,” said Nate Pamplin, DFW wildlife program director, in a press release. “Before we considered reducing the size of the pack, our staff and Mr. Dashiell used a wide range of preventive measures to keep the wolves from preying on the pack, but these efforts have not succeeded.”
The DFW specifically said that it had planned to keep the alpha female alive to rebuild the pack after the wolves learned to leave livestock alone.
“Obviously, this is an unfortunate development and one we hoped to avoid,” Pamplin told KING5. “We provided direction for individuals involved in aerial removals or trapping/euthanasia to try to remove smaller bodied animals.”
Pamplin explained that the three-year-old, 66-pound female was hard for sharpshooters to distinguish from a helicopter. The DFW is anticipating changes in pack integrity, but said that a new female will soon step into the breeding role. In the meantime biologists are helping ranchers focus on more preventative measures. No additional wolves have been killed since August.
“The threat to one rancher’s flock has passed, but there are other ranchers and other livestock in that area,” Pamplin said. “We need to make sure that the owners of those livestock operations—large and small—are aware of the pack’s presence and are taking necessary precautions.”
Washington’s small wolf population has historically had little conflict with humans, and the Huckleberry pack in particular has never been documented to attack livestock before this August. Biologists say there are at least 13 wolf packs across the state with a minimum of 52 wolves overall.
Image courtesy MacNeil Lyons/National Park Service