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Helicopter gunner kills 6th Wedge Pack wolf; effort concludes; alpha male, female dead

The Wedge Pack, one of about 12 wolf packs in Washington, has been targeted for lethal removal after numerous attacks on cattle in northern Stevens County during the summer of 2012.
The Wedge Pack, one of about 12 wolf packs in Washington, has been targeted for lethal removal after numerous attacks on cattle in northern Stevens County during the summer of 2012.

ENDANGERED SPECIES -- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say a helicopter gunner killed the alpha male of a cattle-preying wolf pack today, concluding the mission to eliminate the Wedge Pack in northern Stevens County.

The wolf was shot just south of the U.S.-Canada border in the third day of aerial shooting that claimed six wolves, agency director Phil Anderson said in a media release. The alpha male has been wearing a GPS since early summer, when it was caught and released by a state wolf researcher.

The state has been following the GPS signals of the alpha male to locate the pack, which officials have been targeting for elimination since Saturday. 

The pack's alpha female was killed earlier this week, Anderson said. A younger female wolf was shot by an agency staffer on Aug. 7 during the first lethal efforts to curb attacks on cattle that started in early July.

How do you know you have the entire pack, considering WDFW originally estimated the pack included at least eight animals?  WDFW state wildlife manager responds.

A Spokesman-Review photographer has been attempting to get photos of the effort, but was told by agency staff on the scene that they could not include him in the activities or make any official comments.  One staffer did say that none of them enjoyed what they were doing, but that they were doing their job.

“Directing the pack’s removal was a very difficult decision, both personally and professionally, but it was necessary to reset the stage for sustainable wolf recovery in this region,” Anderson said.  “Now we will refocus our attention on working with livestock operators and conservation groups to aggressively promote the use of non-lethal tactics to avoid wolf-livestock conflict.”

With the latest operation concluded, Anderson said the department would continue to monitor wolf activity in the Wedge region as it is doing in other parts of the state. While some WDFW staff were working full time with the Wedge Pack for most of the summer, other staffers have been working to document wolf activity in Okanogan, Chelan and Kittitas Counties, the Blue Mountains and elsewhere in Northeast Washington.

Read on for more background and details.

From the WDFW media release issued this afternoon:

The department initiated removal of the Wedge Pack late last week in an effort to put a stop to its persistent attacks on livestock from the herd of the Diamond M Ranch in northern Stevens County.  Since July, the wolves had killed or injured at least 17 calves and cows from the herd. 

The pack takes its name from the triangular shape of the Washington state portion of its range, which is bordered by the Columbia and Kettle rivers and Canada.  Its elimination leaves the state with seven confirmed wolf packs and four suspected packs, most of which range in the remote, rugged forests of Northeast Washington. 

WDFW began to lethally remove wolves from the pack in early August, as its pattern of predation began to escalate despite non-lethal efforts by the rancher and the department to prevent the attacks.  A WDFW marksman killed a non-breeding member of the pack on August 7, and about two weeks later, biologists found the decomposed carcass of a young wolf within the Diamond M herd’s grazing area.  The young wolf had not been shot, and the cause of death could not be determined.

Teams of WDFW staff remained in the Wedge through August, trapping extensively and tracking the movements of the alpha male, which had been fitted with a location-transmitting radio collar.

However, Anderson said none of the rancher’s or the department’s efforts to change the pack’s behavior succeeded, and attacks on the Diamond M herd increased through mid-September.

“Ultimately, it became clear that this pack was preying on livestock as its primary food source, and that our actions had not changed that pattern,” Anderson said.  “The independent wolf experts we consulted agreed with our staff that removal of the pack was the only viable option.”

With the support of key conservation and livestock organizations, the department announced on Sept. 21 it would remove the pack to create the opportunity for wolves that are not habituated to preying on livestock to re-colonize the region.

Anderson said he looked forward to continuing to work with interested groups on a broad range of non-lethal management strategies under the terms of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan approved by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission in December 2011.

WDFW is urging livestock operators to enter into cooperative, cost-sharing agreements with the department that specify non-lethal measures they will use to minimize wolf-livestock conflict.

“Lethal removal will remain a wolf management option, but we will use it only as a last resort, after all reasonable non-lethal options are exhausted,” Anderson said.

He said he respects the opinions of the many citizens who contacted the department to share their support for or opposition to its actions.  “We know these issues spark strong feelings among Washington residents across the state, which is why we are committed to conducting our business openly and transparently,” he said.

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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