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Pro-wolf groups ask Gregoire to stop plan to kill wolves

Gray wolf packs confirmed in Washington as of July 17, 2012. (Washington Fish and Wildlife Department)
Gray wolf packs confirmed in Washington as of July 17, 2012. (Washington Fish and Wildlife Department)

ENDANGERED SPECIES --  Seven conservation organizations sent a letter today calling on Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and state agencies to rescind a state Department of Fish and Wildlife plan to thwart attacks on cattle by killing up to four wolves in the Wedge Pack in northeastern Washington.

WDFW officials announced last week that up to four wolves may be killed in the Stevens County area near the Canada border after the latest in a series of wolf attacks that had injured six cattle and killed two. 

The state killed a wolf in that area on Aug. 7 in response to a series of attacks in July. That was "lethal removal" mission the agency has launched under its 2011 wolf management plan.

The conservation groups contend the WDFW field analysis of the Diamond M Ranch's livestock was flawed and the cattle may not have been killed by wolves.

The letter was directed to WDFW Director Phil Anderson from the Western Environmental Law Center and forwarded to Gov. Gregoire and other state lawmakers.

Contacted today, WDFW regional manager Steve Pozzanghera said the department stands by its detailed field investigations that confirmed the attacks were by wolves. 

He said that while agency staff have been working in the area between the Columbia and Kettle Rivers all week, no wolves have yet been trapped and fitted with radio collars and none has been killed.

Read on for the media release the seven conservation groups issued today announcing their letter to Gregoire and their complaints.

Media Release from Cascadia Wildlands:

State of Washington Urged to Halt Wolf Killing

Evidence Lacking That Wedge Wolf Pack Is Responsible for Livestock Loss

 OLYMPIA, Wash.- Seven conservation organizations sent a letter today calling on Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and state agencies to rescind an order to kill four wolves in the Wedge wolf pack in northeastern Washington. The kill order comes just two weeks after the state killed another wolf-pack member. State agents have been dispatched and are currently in the field tracking down the wolves to kill.

The letter was sent by Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society of the United States, Snohomish Group of the Sierra Club Washington State Chapter, Western Environmental Law Center and Wolf Haven International. The groups assert that the state's plan to kill the four wolves is illegal because the state has failed to show that the livestock were killed by wolves or that the ranchers took actions to avoid depredations.

"This is a simple case of the state not following its own rules," says Bob Ferris, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands. "You can't kill four more members of the pack if you can't show conclusively that wolves were responsible for the livestock deaths."

There is a strict standard in the recently adopted "Washington Wolf Plan" about when lethal control on wolves can be authorized, including demonstrating that the livestock at issue "have clearly been killed by wolves." A state of Washington incident report about a recent depredation near the Diamond M Ranch specifically concluded that the incident could not be confirmed as a wolf predation.

"The killing of five wolves in the Wedge pack would completely violate both the spirit and letter of the state's wolf-management plan," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The state needs to rescind this kill order right away and pull its staff from the field."

Several wolf-depredation experts have reviewed the state's investigation reports and found that none of the injuries are characteristic of wolf predation on livestock.

"The rush to kill these wolves based on misidentified predation sets a very dangerous precedent for wolf management in Washington," said Suzanne Stone, northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, who managed the organization's regional wolf-compensation program from 1999 to 2011. "Instead of waiting for legitimate depredations to occur, the state should focus on using proven nonlethal alternatives that are much more effective at reducing conflicts over the long run. People will never learn how to coexist with wolves if the state is so quick to kill them."

This pack is known as the Wedge pack because its range includes a triangle-shaped area defined by the Canadian border and the Kettle and Columbia rivers. The incidents have taken place on leased grazing land within the Coleville National Forest.

"Managing the return of wolves to our public landscape is an emotional issue, and the state will always be pressured to take extreme control measures when livestock are killed regardless of whether a wolf was responsible or not," said Greg Costello with the Western Environmental Law Center. "Therefore, it is imperative that the state's integrity is maintained during the wolf recovery process to ensure fair and transparent decision-making."

Wolves are just beginning to make a comeback in Washington after a government-sponsored program of poisoning, shooting and trapping the animal to extinction in the state. There are currently eight packs of wolves in Washington since the animals' historic return in 2008. This past December the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted the "Washington Wolf Plan," a stakeholder-developed framework that outlines recovery and management objectives for wolves in Washington.

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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