Too many predators, not enough prey
Last updated 11/3/2022 at 10:14pm
We have a predator problem.
And hunters are noting that it gets worse with each passing year.
In the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s District No. 1 – the northeast corner of the state comprising GMUs 101, 105, 108, 111, 113, 117 and 121— cougars and wolves kill almost 20,000 deer a year. Hunters last year killed an additional 3,600, bringing the annual reduction in deer numbers to over 23,000. That does not include additional loss by bear, coyote, bobcat, automobile or other mortalities.
Fish and Wildlife officials estimate the year started with 30,000 whitetail deer, including 19,800 does. Adding one fawn per doe, we have 49,800 available deer to start next year, minus those removed by hunting and predators. That leaves us with about 26,500 to start next year.
There will be about 2,000 fewer does, and likely 2,000 fewer fawns next year. Meanwhile, the wolf population is growing at 28% per year. The cougar population is also growing.
Looking out three years, the depredation and hunting rates will leave us with only 11,150 whitetails.
These numbers are only a projection, and may, in reality, paint a worse picture than what actually plays out. For example, with fewer deer, hunters will not be able to take as many deer.
Regardless, this should be ringing alarms. Under the state’s present policy, our deer herds are unsustainable.
The Northeast Washington Wildlife Group believes the only way to halt this descent further into a “predator pit” is to limit the predator take.
With wolves being sacrosanct at Fish and Wildlife and cougar quotas – the department calls them “guidelines” – not being met, the current policy only restricts the harvest by two-legged predators. That could mean reducing hunting season lengths, limiting hunting permits, implementing antler point restriction, changing east/west deer tags or GMU selection or a combination of these or some other method. Whatever method chosen, it is not going to sit well with hunters.
The Northeast Washington Wildlife Group has suggested removing more cougars. The quotas are set to harvest 12% to 16% of the cats to maintain a stable, healthy population.
If the boot hunters are not meeting these quotas, it stands to reason the cat population is growing, never mind the fact that we already have more cougars on the landscape.
In all probability, the state and Game Commission will discount these from the Predator-Prey Project.
For five years, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, in conjunction with University of Washington, conducted a study regarding predators and the effects they have on their prey.
The state, in following a student working on her doctorate degree, Taylor Ganz, believes the whitetail population is stable. This is not what we are hearing in Northeast Washington.
Locally, the overwhelming response of locals is that we are just not seeing deer as we used to. Our whitetails are in trouble with the numbers down as much as 50% or more from what they were in 2015.
As many of you know, we had a severe outbreak of blue tongue in 2015 that killed a lot of deer; 80 deer died within the city limits of Colville alone. In 2021, we again had blue tongue strike, killing 30% of our whitetails, according to the state.
That year, according to Colville Public Works Department, employees removed over 160 carcasses from with the city.
There are three more facts to consider.
1. The whitetail harvest in 2021 in District No. 1 was 3,600, a record low.
2. The 2015 harvest was close to 8,000 – after the blue tongue outbreak
3. Harvest numbers generally parallel population numbers.
We have a very serious predator problem and our ungulates are on an unsustainable trajectory with the current management practices.
All of this is leading to ever-increasing predation of livestock and pets. The department is spending thousands killing problem wolves and cougars with local businesses losing millions of dollars in revenue due to less hunters.
The Wildlife Group is urging hunters and others to attend the next game commission meeting from Oct. 27-29 in Colville and let them hear what you are seeing and the fear that many of you express regarding your children, self and your animals. The agenda schedule has yet to be set, but plan to attend the open public comment portion of the meeting.
Without a change in management policies it is only going to get worse. With less wildlife to prey on, there will be more domestic depredation and increased danger to our children and selves.
– Dale Magart is an officer in the Northeast Washington Wildlife Group. Email him at [email protected].