For the first time, wolves from three Washington packs are in the state’s crosshairs.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife ordered the killing of members of the Togo and the Smackout packs Wednesday.
That comes on the heels of a similar kill order directed at the Old Profanity Territory pack on Oct. 26.
“This is the worst year we’ve ever had,” WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said in an interview Monday. “I know we’ve never had three packs that are above the threshold for lethal removal.”
Susewind authorized the removal of one or two members of the Smackout pack after officials confirmed pack members had killed or injured five cattle since Aug. 20. According to a WDFW release, four heifers were killed and one calf was injured on privately owned land.
The Smackout pack has four or five adult wolves.
The remaining members of the Togo pack will also be targeted. Togo pack members have killed or injured six cattle over the past 10 months, the release said.
Most recently, WDFW killed a male from the Togo pack. However, on Oct. 26, Jake Nelson, a rancher on the Lone Ranch grazing allotment, documented a calf injured by wolves.
The calf’s rear was badly chewed, and its leg was broken.
Because the attacks occurred on private land, WDFW authorized the ranchers to kill the wolves, the release said.
The Togo pack consists of a female adult wolf and two pups, according to a WDFW release.
Nelson did not immediately return a call requesting comment.
WDFW’s lethal removal policy allows killing wolves if they prey on livestock three times in a 30-day period or four times in a 10-month period. That policy was developed in 2016 by WDFW and its 18-member Wolf Advisory Group, which represents the concerns of environmentalists, hunters and livestock ranchers.
The policy also stipulates cattle producers have employed at least two proactive deterrence techniques.
Lethal control is allowed in the eastern third of the state where wolves are protected by state endangered species rules. Wolves remain federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state.
State Rep. Joel Kretz said the kill order is good news for ranchers, but he questioned whether WDFW will be capable.
“Well, I’ve been worried about this day coming,” he said. “I asked them a year ago, two years ago, you guys seem to struggle dealing when one pack goes bad, how are you going to deal with two or three at the same time? It’s more than they can handle, frankly.”
Environmental groups have temporarily blocked the killing of wolves in the past. A lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity unsuccessfully attempted to temporarily block the killings in court Wednesday, said Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the center.
However, a larger lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands alleging that WDFW “relied upon a faulty protocol and failed to undergo required environmental analysis” is ongoing.
“The fact that WDFW has kill orders out for three packs is both tragic and not a sound way to be managing an endangered species like wolves,” Greenwald said.
He questioned the effectiveness of killing wolves as a deterrence strategy. Some research has found killing wolves may not reduce depredations.
For example, a 2018 study found killing wolves may help ranchers in the immediate area but pushes the wolves to other areas and does not reduce overall incidents. A 2014 study found killing wolves led to more dead sheep and cows the following year. The study was authored by controversial former Washington State University professor Rob Wielgus.
However, in 2015 a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologist published a study that found lethal removal does work. But incremental lethal removal – that is, killing one or two wolves at a time – does not. Instead, removing the entire pack is the most effective strategy.
WDFW incrementally removes wolves.
Despite losses of a dozen wolves per year from state-authorized killing, poaching, vehicle collisions and other human-related causes, the state’s wolf population continues to grow.
A minimum of 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs was reported by the WDFW this winter.
In a meet-and-greet Monday in the Spokane Valley, WDFW’s Susewind said the wolf management plan needs to change.
The Wolf Advisory Group will start looking at a de-listing plan for the state’s wolves, he said. WDFW is starting a state environmental review to assess the feasibility of relocating some wolves, although Susewind called that an unlikely option.
“We’ve got to try something different,” he said.
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