SPOKANE — A Stevens County sheep rancher has moved about 1,800 sheep to protect them from a pack of wolves that have killed at least two dozen of the animals this summer.
The Spokesman-Review reported Tuesday that Dave and Julie Dashiell decided to move their sheep to safety rather than wait for state wildlife officials to track down and kill up to four wolves from the Huckleberry Pack, which hunts north of the Spokane Indian Reservation.
The ranchers tried numerous strategies to end the attacks.
Jamie Henneman, spokeswoman for the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, said they had a full-time herder, four guard dogs, range riders and extra help from state employees, but wolf kills kept mounting.
“There’s a point where you’ve got to decide, do you leave and hopefully stay in business, or do you stick around until there’s just nothing left,” she said.
Wolves were killed off in Washington early in the last century. But starting in the early 2000s, they started moving back into the state from neighboring Idaho and Canada. The state estimates there are about 52 wolves in 13 packs in Washington.
Environmental groups oppose the wolf hunt, saying nonlethal methods of discouraging the wolves were not exhausted.
The Dashiells know of 24 sheep lost to wolf attacks the past few weeks and fear the actual toll could be twice that number.
On Sunday, they pulled their remaining sheep off rangeland they leased from Hancock Timber Co. in southern Stevens County. The animals were moved, with assistance from state employees, to a temporary pasture and soon will be trucked to their winter range, about six weeks earlier than planned, Henneman said.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife shot one of the wolves, an adult female, from a helicopter Aug. 23 and set out traps in hopes of removing up to three others from the pack.
But the agency stopped the hunt and pulled its traps before the Labor Day weekend to avoid conflicts with recreationists and grouse hunters.
It is not clear if the hunt will resume, state officials said.
Donny Martorello, carnivore section manager for Fish and Wildlife, said the state will re-evaluate what to do next.
“We’re certainly concerned about the behavior, the repeated depredations,” he said.
The agency said in a Tuesday press release that it would continue to monitor the pack.
“We will be prepared to take appropriate steps if additional depredations occur, including authorizing lethal action,” the agency said.
The agency is also providing information and assistance to neighboring ranchers and has discussed compensating the Dashiell’s for the lost sheep.
Henneman said the cattlemen’s association sees this as a case of the state falling short of protecting livestock producers.
“If this is the precedent that Fish and Wildlife refuses to control their animals, that the rancher has to leave, we have a private property rights crisis here,” she said.
Henneman said other livestock owners in that area are at risk from the Huckleberry Pack.
“As soon as that pack figures out that their 1,800 sheep are gone, they’re going to move on to the next site,” she said. “This is not the end to these troubles.”