The final two members of a wolf pack occupying the old Profanity Peak Pack area will be killed, according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife news release.
The kill order comes after members of the pack, which the department dubbed the Old Profanity Territory pack, killed or injured at least 16 cattle since Sept. 4. The most recent was on Tuesday, according to the agency.
The two remaining wolves are an adult male and a pup.
WDFW killed a juvenile member of the pack on Sept. 16 following documented depredations. On Sept. 28 WDFW killed an adult female. Per agency policy, WDFW then monitored the area to see if lethal removal was effective. Despite two depredations in early October, WDFW refrained from killing more wolves due to concerns about whether range riding and other nonlethal deterrents were being implemented effectively.
The livestock in question are on a federal grazing allotment. Per allotment rules, the producer was supposed to have his cattle off the land on Oct. 15. However, because of the “dense timber and rugged terrain” 10 percent of the producer’s cattle remain on federal land.
The producer, the Diamond M Ranch, has used both a state range rider and hired cowboys. According to WDFW the ranch has also employed other nonlethal deterrents.
Jay Shepherd, the wolf program lead for Conservation Northwest and one of the founders of the Northeast Washington Wolf-Cattle Collaborative, said in past years wolf-cattle conflicts had usually tapered off by now.
“It’s a weird year,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It just keeps going.”
WDFW delayed issuing the lethal removal of the wolves partially in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups in August, Shepherd said Friday.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order to stop the killing in August. The lawsuit alleges that WDFW “relied upon a faulty protocol and failed to undergo required environmental analysis.”
That lawsuit is ongoing.
“(WDFW is) concerned that the range riding would not stand up to the protocol and the scrutiny of the court case,” Shepherd said.
WDFW must wait eight court hours between the announcement of a lethal action order and the execution of the order. In the past environmental groups have used that time to challenge the kill order.
However, that won’t happen this time, said Amaroq Weiss, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.
“We’re not able to go to court today for this,” she said.
Weiss said the judge overseeing the case is in trial today and can’t hear a temporary restraining order request.
“We asked WDFW to consider several times if they would consider waiting and they refused,” she said. “They will start flying tomorrow.”
Weiss blasted the agency and accused the rancher of not using appropriate nonlethal deterrents.
“This is just outrageous,” she said. “Every time you think that WDFW can’t sink lower in its decision making process on whether to kill wolves on behalf of ranchers that are not properly stewarding their livestock, they do.”
Following the Sherman Pack action, a judge ruled that WDFW must wait eight court hours between the announcement of a lethal action order and the execution of the order.
Ranchers greeted the news of WDFW’s kill order happily Friday.
Jake Nelson ranches in the Togo Pack area on the Lone Ranch grazing allotment. Friday morning WDFW confirmed that one of his calves had been injured by a wolf. The calf’s rear was badly chewed and its leg broken.
“I would say it’s questionable if he makes it or not,” Nelson said. “I hope that he will.”
Nelson wants WDFW to wipe out the Profanity Peak pack and the Togo pack.
“Hopefully they are going to go from the Profanities straight to the Togos and shoot them too,” he said.
Some research has found that killing wolves may not reduce depredations.
For example, a 2018 study that found that killing wolves may help ranchers in the immediate area but actually pushes the wolves to other areas and does not reduce overall incidents.
Prior to that, a 2014 study found killing wolves actually 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 finding that 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 roughly a dozen wolves a year from selective state-authorized lethal control, plus poaching, vehicle collisions and other human-related causes, Washington’s wolf population has grown each year. A minimum of 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs was reported by the WDFW this winter.
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 that 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.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.