WDFW Stops Wolf Kills Amid Controversy
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has ended efforts to remove members of a wolf pack that has shown no sign of preying on livestock in Stevens County since late July.
Wildlife officials said they were responding to repeated predation by the Smackout pack on area livestock when state wildlife managers trapped and killed two members of the pack between July 20 and July 30.
Since the removal action, the department has found no evidence that wolves have preyed on area livestock, and has not taken further action against the pack, said Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf manager.
“Our goal was to change the pack’s behavior, and the break in wolf depredations on livestock is consistent with the desired outcome,” Martorello said. “We’ll continue to track the pack’s movements via GPS signals, but the removal operation is now over.”
The Smackout pack, one of 20 packs documented in Washington state last year, ranges across 350 square miles northeast of Colville. As of June, WDFW estimated the pack had 13 to 15 members, including five to seven offspring born in 2016.
The two wolves removed from the pack this summer were a 30-pound female young of the year and a 70-pound adult female.
Martorello said the department took that action after documenting four instances of predation on livestock during a 10-month period. Under WDFW’s wolf-removal protocol, that pattern of predation on calves belonging to three ranchers met the threshold for lethal removal.
As you can see, there are differing opinions on the presence of wolves.
Two conservation groups filed a lawsuit on Monday seeking to stop the WDFW and its director, James Unsworth, from killing any more state-endangered wolves.
The suit filed Monday was filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands, asserts that the agency’s killing of wolves from the Smackout and Sherman packs in northeastern Washington relied upon a faulty protocol and failed to undergo required environmental analysis. The suit was filed in Superior Court of Washington for Thurston County.
“We can’t sit by and watch Washington wildlife officials kill more wolves from the state’s small and recovering wolf population,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center’s West Coast spokesperson. “Washingtonians overwhelmingly want wolves recovered, not killed. The Department of Fish and Wildlife needs to listen to public opinion and consider the dire environmental costs of killing more wolves.”
In June of this year, Fish and Wildlife officials adopted a revised “wolf-livestock interaction protocol” for determining when to kill wolves in response to livestock conflicts. The protocol provided for the state to kill wolves more quickly than in prior years. As the lawsuit notes, the protocol was adopted without any public input or environmental review, in violation of the state’s Environmental Policy and Administrative Procedure Acts.
“Reasonable minds can differ on when we should and should not be killing wolves, and whether the killing of the wolves in these two packs was justified,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “But there is no question that we should be fully analyzing the efficacy of these actions, welcoming public and scientific input, and be able to hold the state accountable. This is a state agency spending taxpayer dollars.”
Overall, since 2012, the state has killed 18 state-endangered wolves, nearly 16 percent of the state’s current confirmed population of 115 wolves. Fifteen of the wolves killed since 2012 were killed on behalf of the same livestock owner; those kills have now led to the near eradication of three entire wolf packs, including the Profanity Peak pack last year, and the Wedge pack in 2012.
The rancher in question has been a vocal opponent of wolf recovery and has historically refused to implement meaningful nonlethal measures designed to protect his livestock from wolves, according to advocates suing the state.
Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. The animals began to return from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s, and their population has grown to 20 confirmed packs as of the end of 2016.