Seven pro-wolf groups have asked Gov. Chris Gregoire and other state officials to end efforts to kill some of the wolves involved with cattle attacks in northern Stevens County.
In a letter dated Friday, the groups said Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officers did not find conclusive evidence that wolves were responsible for killing and injuring Diamond M Ranch cattle, so no more wolves should be killed.
Teams of biologists and Fish and Wildlife police say wolves were involved in attacks on at least eight of the ranch’s cattle from mid-July through mid-August, including two calves killed.
Officers responded to the July attacks in the area between the Kettle and Columbia rivers by killing one nonbreeding female wolf from the Wedge Pack on Aug. 7. The kill was the first by the agency under its 2011 wolf management plan.
On Aug. 17, days after confirming more wolf attacks that left one calf injured and one dead, wildlife officials authorized field staff to kill up to four more of the Wedge Pack wolves to curb the attacks.
Gray wolves in Eastern Washington are protected by state endangered species laws, but officials can kill wolves to protect people or property.
The pro-wolf groups, in the letter sent by the Western Environmental Law Center, say the state is jumping to the lethal option too quickly.
Two of the three nonagency experts who peer-reviewed the field investigations were not convinced the cattle attacks were the work of wolves, said Suzanne Stone of the Defenders of Wildlife.
“The reports and especially the photos indicate injuries uncharacteristic of wolves,” she said.
Stone said she’s dealt with Idaho wolf depredation claims totaling $1 million under a livestock-loss compensation program Defenders of Wildlife formerly financed. She said 98 percent of those claims were legitimate once wildlife agencies became adept at investigating wolf kills.
Washington officials probably are not as experienced, she said.
Decisions to kill wolves have more serious impacts on wolf recovery in Washington than in Idaho, which has about 10 times more wolves, she said.
Steve Pozzanghera, Fish and Wildlife’s regional wildlife manger, said the state stands by its investigations.
“We’ve been told repeatedly from the start that you can have several individuals looking at the same thing on the ground and they’ll reach different conclusions,” he said.
Three to six agency staffers have been attempting to trap Wedge Pack wolves this week, but none has been caught, he said. The decomposed carcass of a wolf was discovered, but the cause of death could not be determined.
Although they intend to kill more wolves, biologists also want to put a radio collar on at least one more Wedge wolf to help monitor the pack’s movements.
A wolf thought to be the pack’s alpha male was trapped, collared and released earlier this summer. Six weeks of radio telemetry monitoring shows the wolf pack has ranged widely into Canada and back to the Colville National Forest area where the cattle attacks occurred.
Livestock producers applaud the state’s effort to kill some of the Wedge Pack wolves.
“From day one of the wolf management plan process, the department told stakeholders they were prepared to deal with difficult situations and would eliminate wolves in cases of chronic livestock depredation – that’s what they’re doing,” said Jack Field, spokesman for the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.
“The Endangered Species Act is driving the process here. That’s supposedly the will of the people, but the economic burden is being laid on the back of a very few.”