SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Some wolf advocates are outraged that the state is preparing for the second time to exterminate an entire wolf pack for preying on livestock in northeastern Washington state.
This is the second time in four years that a pack of endangered wolves has received the death penalty because of the grazing of privately owned cattle on publicly owned lands, the Center for Biological Diversity said.
Washington is home to about 90 wolves, and killing the 11 members of the Profanity Peak pack would amount to 12 percent of the population.
“By no stretch of the imagination can killing 12 percent of the state’s tiny population of 90 wolves be consistent with recovery,” said Amaroq Weiss, of the Center for Biological Diversity, on Thursday.
“We can’t keep placing wolves in harm’s way by repeatedly dumping livestock onto public lands with indefensible terrain, then killing the wolves when conflicts arise,” she said.
Last week, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced it would exterminate the Profanity Peak pack in Ferry County. Since mid-July, the agency has confirmed that wolves have killed or injured six cattle and probably five others, based on staff investigations.
Jim Unsworth, director of the agency, authorized the wolf hunts between the towns of Republic and Kettle Falls.
Wildlife officials shot two pack members Aug. 5, but temporarily ended wolf-removal efforts after two weeks passed without finding any more evidence of wolf predation on cattle.
“At that time, we said we would restart this operation if there was another wolf attack, and now we have three,” said Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf policy lead. “The department is committed to wolf recovery, but we also have a shared responsibility to protect livestock from repeated depredation by wolves.”
Since 2008, the state’s wolf population has grown from two wolves in one pack to at least 90 wolves and 19 packs.
Wolves were hunted to extinction in Washington at the beginning of the last century. Since the early 2000s, they’ve moved back into the state from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia.
That has set off alarm bells from people in rural areas, especially in northeastern Washington where the animals are concentrated.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife has walked a fine line between environmental groups, who support wolf recovery, and ranchers who want to protect their herds. The issue has become a dividing line between urban and rural residents.
In 2012, hunters hired by the state killed members of the Wedge pack of wolves, in the same general area, for killing livestock.
Conservation groups say the livestock is the problem, not wolves.
“Cows grazing in thick forest and downed trees in the Colville National Forest are in an indefensible situation,” said Tim Coleman, executive director for Kettle Range Conservation Group. “We believe the wildest areas of our national forests should be a place where wolves can roam free.”
Under Washington’s wolf plan, livestock owners are eligible for taxpayer-funded compensation for losses. Taxpayers have also funded the radio collars placed on wolves.
Those collars are now being used to locate and kill the wolves. This practice is referred to as the use of “Judas wolves,” because the collared wolves unknowingly betray the location of their family members, Weiss said.
Some conservation groups do not oppose the hunt. Wolf Haven International, the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and Conservation Northwest said they are focused on long-term goals.
“We remain steadfast that our important goals remain the long-term recovery and public acceptance of wolves in our state alongside thriving rural communities,” the groups said in a press release. “We believe that ultimately we can create conditions where everyone’s values are respected and the needs of wildlife, wildlife advocates, and rural communities are met.”