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Wed., Aug. 31, 2016, 12:55 p.m.

Death threats surround Profanity Peak wolf pack removal; WSU apologizes for statements

Circle shows approximate range of the Profanity Peak wolf pack, which is north of U.S. 20 in Ferry County, Washington.w (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)
Circle shows approximate range of the Profanity Peak wolf pack, which is north of U.S. 20 in Ferry County, Washington.w (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

UPDATED 4:50 p.m. with apology and statement from WSU at end.

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT --  Death threats have been reported surrounding the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department's decision to eliminate the cattle-killing Profanity Peak wolf pack in Ferry County, according to the Seattle Times.

The threats have been received by people on both sides of the emotional issue, the newspaper reported today.

Fuel was thrown on the volatile issue last week when the Seattle Times ran a story quoting a WSU researcher who said the cattle were grazing on an allotment near a wolf den and that the attacks on cattle were predictable.  The story ran while state personnel were involved in the dangerous work of trying to hunt the wolves by helicopter.

The Times also published a bleeding-heart Op-Ed authored by a wolf advocate who complained that “animals experience pain and loss.”

Here's more from the Associated Press:

Researcher Rob Wielgus of Washington State University this week declined further comment on the pending elimination of the Profanity Peak pack by hunters for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, citing the death threats.

“My friends in WDFW have received death threats . It’s gone tooooo far,” Wielgus wrote in an email to the newspaper.

Last week, state Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, told the newspaper that cattle producers also were receiving death threats in the wake of the controversy.

Wielgus said last week the conflict with wolves was inevitable because one of the ranchers involved had turned out his cattle on top of a known wolf den. Wielgus was challenged on that claim Monday afternoon by Conservation Northwest, a nonprofit environmental group, which said it heard the cattle were turned out five miles away from the den and that the den was not in use.

Asked to respond Monday, Wielgus wrote: “I can’t understand this . of course the den was in use and I have many photos of cattle on den. What gives?”

In a later email, he wrote that Donny Martorello, the state’s wolf-policy lead, told him the cattle were turned out five miles away and moved to the den site later.

Martorello did not return phone calls, and neither did the rancher, who grazes cattle on public land in the Colville National Forest.

That rancher and another producer with cattle near the Profanity Peak pack had been taking steps recommended by the department to avoid conflict with wolves, Martorello has said, from deploying range riders to picking up carcasses to avoid attracting wolves, and turning out calves when they were bigger and more mature. He praised the ranchers’ cooperation.

Jack Field, vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said Tuesday he sees steady progress in acceptance among ranchers in working with the department and using nonlethal methods to avoid conflict with wolves.

Many producers, he noted, are successfully operating in what is once again wolf country, after the carnivores’ more than century-long absence.

Wolves were exterminated in Washington in the early 1900s – in part by ranchers to keep them away from sheep and cattle. Wolves began recolonizing the state in 2008, when the first packs were confirmed in Washington, from populations in Idaho and British Columbia.

There were about 90 wolves in the state as of early 2016, most of them documented in packs in northeastern Washington.

Since mid-July, WDFW has confirmed that wolves from the Profanity Peak pack have killed or injured six cattle and probably five others. The state’s policy authorizes “lethal removal” after confirming that wolves have preyed on livestock at least four times in one calendar year, or six times in two consecutive years.

Department staff had killed six of the 11 members of the Profanity Peak wolf pack as of last Friday. Remaining were two radio-collared adults, used by the department to track the wolves, and several pups.

UPDATE:

In an unusual twist, Washington State University posted this media release Wednesday afternoon apologizing and "clarifying" statements about the Profanity Peak wolf pack issue made by one of the university's wolf experts.

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University and the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resources Sciences today issued the following statement regarding public statements made by Dr. Rob Wielgus, associate professor and director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at WSU, related to the Profanity Peak Wolf Pack.

Some of Dr. Wielgus’ statements in regard to this controversial issue have been both inaccurate and inappropriate. As such, they have contributed substantially to the growing anger and confusion about this significant wildlife management issue and have unfairly jeopardized the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wolf Advisory Group’s many-months long stakeholder process. Moreover, the statements do not in any way represent the views or position of Washington State University or the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resources Sciences. These statements are disavowed by our institutions.

We offer the following corrections of the information in the public arena:

In an article published by the Seattle Times on Aug. 25, 2016, Dr. Wielgus stated that a particular livestock operator had “elected to put his livestock directly on top of (the wolves’) den site; we have pictures of cows swamping it…”

In fact, the rancher identified in the article did not intentionally place livestock at or near the den site of the Profanity Peak wolf pack, and Dr. Wielgus subsequently acknowledged that he had no basis in fact for making such a statement. In actuality, the livestock were released at low elevation on the east side of the Kettle Crest more than 4 miles from the den site, and dispersed throughout the allotments based on instructions found in the Annual Operating Instructions (AOI). The CC mountain allotment is more than 30,000 acres and livestock are generally moved from pasture to pasture following an established rotation.

In the same article, Dr. Wielgus stated that a particular cattle rancher had also “refused to radio-collar his cattle to help predict and avoid interactions with radio-collared wolves” and that there had been no documented “cattle kills among producers who are participating in research studies and very few among producers using Fish and Wildlife’s protocol.”

In fact, the rancher identified in the article has held a term grazing permit for 73 years and has worked with both the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service in the management of livestock in order to avoid conflict – following procedures outlined by the Washington Wolf Advisory Group. In order to reduce wolf/livestock conflict, the rancher has modified livestock rotation practices and utilized range riders to ensure livestock safety. While the rancher  is not currently participating in Dr. Wielgus’ ongoing study, radio-collaring of livestock is not a Wolf Advisory Group procedure nor is it 100 percent effective at preventing depredations. It is inaccurate to state that there have been no cattle kills among producers participating in the study. There is at least one permittee who is participating in the study who has incurred livestock depredations.

The decision to eliminate the Profanity Peak Wolf pack came after two years of careful work and scientific analysis by the Washington State Wolf Advisory Group, consisting of a collaboration between scientists, industry, and conservation partners.  Washington State University subscribes to the highest standards of research integrity and will not and cannot condone statements that have the effect of compromising that integrity.

Regarding future steps for preventing subsequent inaccurate or inappropriate statements, we are implementing applicable internal university processes.

WSU apologizes to our friends, our science partners, and to the public for this incident.




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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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