A collaboration: Washington’s non-lethal wolf-livestock mitigation tools

Along with warmer temperatures, spring in Washington means the start of the livestock grazing season. The seasonal change signals potential increases in interactions between wolves and domestic animals, impacting both large livestock operations and small hobby farms.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is committed to working with livestock owners and operations of all sizes to reduce interactions between domestic animals and wolves. In working toward this goal, WDFW staff partner with livestock producers at this time each year to identify and implement nonlethal tools and measures that may help prevent livestock depredations caused by wolves.

Wolves in the eastern one-third of Washington are listed as endangered at the state level, but not the federal level. Since wolves are not federally listed in this area, WDFW manages the wolf population. This means lethal removal is an option in very specific circumstances of reoccuring documented wolf-livestock depredations. However, west of Highway 97, in central and Western Washington, wolves are listed as federally endangered and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The federal status means lethal removal for livestock depredations is not an option. It is also illegal to shoot a wolf if it is caught in the act of attacking a domestic animal, including your pet. Therefore, it is very important to be proactive early-on in the use of nonlethal tools, before a problem starts.

A map of Washington showing where wolves are listed as endangered by the federal government.
This map shows where wolves are federally listed as endangered in Washington State and where they have been delisted by the federal government but remain protected at the state level.

There are many factors that determine which measures or tools work best, so the use of nonlethal measures is determined on a case-by-case basis. Every livestock operation is unique, including the species, number of animals, terrain, landscape conditions, and time of year all play into which tools may effectively prevent a wolf depredation. Multiple non-lethal deterrents are often used to maximize effectiveness since no single measure will consistently be successful.

Following are some of the nonlethal options WDFW suggests livestock producers use:

Human presence- The regular presence of humans — whether ranch employees, family members or others — is the most effective tool in deterring wolves from frequenting an area. This is generally restricted to small pastures or areas where livestock group closely together.

Range riding — Range riding differs from general human presence in that a range rider patrols, on horseback or ATV, large open grazing allotments four-to-five times per week to monitor livestock health and behavior and work to remove anything that could attract wolves from the range. These allotments are sometimes in remote areas where cows disperse over a large area.

Monitoring livestock — By watching for changes in livestock behavior, condition, and reproductive status, ranchers can decrease potential wolf interactions. Producers are encouraged to remove sick or injured livestock (which can be perceived as an easy target to a wolf) from pastures and make sure livestock aren’t congregating in areas frequented by wolves if possible, such as den sites and rendezvous areas.

Fladry can scare off wolves when it moves in the wind.

Avoiding den and rendezvous sites- Before grazing season, WDFW wildlife conflict specialists work with livestock producers and land management agencies to develop a plan to avoid active wolf den or rendezvous sites (an area a pack will take young wolves before they’re old enough to travel and hunt with the pack). On WDFW-managed lands, the agency develops management plans that incorporate separation of livestock and wolves, such as daily livestock monitoring, and when available, providing grazing on alternate WDFW-managed properties if a wolf den is present on the original grazing allotment.

Fladry- Red flags on a rope strung around a pasture on fencing are known as fladry. The flags move in the wind, which may scare wolves and discourage them from entering an area surrounded with fladry.

Protecting calving/lambing areas — Establishing calving or lambing areas away from areas where wolves are active or in pastures near ranch houses allows for easier, more frequent livestock checks and intervention if wolves gets too close. Livestock producers can also use protective fencing, fladry, or barns and sheds for birthing areas to further protect newborns.

A RAG box makes lights and noise that can scare off wolves

Propane cannons, fox lights and radio activated guard boxes — Loud or bright deterrents may scare wolves off grazing properties. This includes propane cannons that make a loud boom, Foxlights that have flashing lights and gives the impression of someone patrolling in the dark, and radio-activated guard boxes that activate strobe lights and a speaker playing music or loud noises when activated by the signal from a radio-collared wolf.

Guardian and herding dogs — Some livestock producers use trained, specific breeds of dogs to protect livestock, along with regular human presence. The most effective breeds include Akbash, Kangal, Great Pyrenees, and Komondor.

Strategic carcass sanitation — Livestock sometimes die on grazing allotments from causes unrelated to carnivores- such as poisonous plants, lighting strikes, or illness. Removing carcasses from areas that livestock frequent, prevents attracting wolves to grazing areas and reduces the potential for wolf-livestock interactions. Also, burying carcasses and fencing carcass pits keeps wolves from accessing carcasses. When wolves find a food source, they are likely to return to look for more.

Permanent and portable fencing — Many producers, landowners, and land managers use predator-resistant or electric fencing on pastures to deter wolves and to create night pens for open grazing livestock. WDFW and non-profit groups may have limited amounts of fence materials to be loaned to livestock producers.

Delayed calf turn-out — Many producers delay turning their calves out until they reach 200 pounds so calves are less vulnerable. When possible, keeping cow and calf pairs together is helpful so that the larger cows can help protect their young.

Fortunately, wolves coexisting on the landscape is common. In general, about 80 percent of Washington’s known wolf packs are not involved in any documented livestock depredations. Although media coverage often focuses on negative interactions among wolves, livestock, and people, successful coexistence plays out daily in most places where wolves live in our state.

To learn more about Washington’s wolves, go to WDFW’s gray wolf management and conservation web page or sign up to receive monthly email updates on wolf activity.



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.