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WSU disavows professor’s statements on Profanity Peak wolf pack, death threats

Associated Press

SEATTLE – Washington State University disavowed the statements of one of its professors Wednesday following reports in the Seattle Times about the killing of a wolf pack in northeastern Washington.

WSU said in a news release that some of the statements made by researcher and associate professor Rob Wielgus about the killing of the Profanity Peak pack “have been both inaccurate and inappropriate. As such, they have contributed substantially to the growing anger and confusion about this significant wildlife management issue and have unfairly jeopardized the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wolf Advisory Group’s many-months long stakeholder process.”

Wielgus is director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at WSU.

He told the Seattle Times last week that that the conflict with wolves was inevitable because one of the ranchers involved had turned out his cattle on top of a known wolf den. Wielgus was challenged on that claim Monday afternoon by Conservation Northwest, a nonprofit environmental group.

Asked to respond Monday, Wielgus wrote: “I can’t understand this. Of course the den was in use and I have many photos of cattle on den. What gives?”

State Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, said he and other members of the Wolf Advisory Group had a conference call with WSU officials and expressed concerns about the effects of Wielgus’ comments.

Some ranchers are getting phone calls from people threatening their families, Kretz said, and some members of the advisory group were being denounced for backing the protocols that call for continued hunting of wolves in the Profanity Peak pack.

Their message to WSU officials was the group had been working at a compromise on wolves for two years and Wielgus’ comments in the Times article “just blew the doors off,” the lawmaker said.

A suggestion that a rancher was putting cattle on top of a known den is false because the location of dens is kept confidential by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Kretz said, and isn’t even shared with the U.S. Forest Service, which assigns grazing allotments.

The WSU statement said, “The rancher identified in the article did not intentionally place livestock at or near the den site of the Profanity Peak wolf pack, and Dr. Wielgus subsequently acknowledged that he had no basis in fact for making such a statement.”

“He’s got a real passion for predators,” Kretz said of Wielgus. “Somewhere along the way, he lost his objectivity.”

Although he suggested to WSU officials the researcher was improperly using state and university resources to promote his biases, Kretz said the lengthy and sharply worded statement surprised him.

“We thought it would be a whitewash,” he said.

The Seattle newspaper reported Wednesday that the killing of the wolf pack in northeastern Washington has produced death threats for people on both sides of the emotional issue.

Donny Martorello, the state’s wolf-policy lead, did not return phone calls, and neither did the rancher, who grazes cattle on public land in the Colville National Forest.

That rancher and another producer with cattle near the Profanity Peak pack had been taking steps recommended by the department to avoid conflict with wolves, Martorello has said, from deploying range riders to picking up carcasses, and turning out calves when they were bigger and more mature. He praised the ranchers’ cooperation.

Jack Field, vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said Tuesday he sees steady progress in acceptance among ranchers in working with the department and using nonlethal methods to avoid conflict with wolves.

Many producers, he noted, are successfully operating in what is once again wolf country, after the carnivores’ more than centurylong absence.

Since mid-July, WDFW has confirmed that wolves from the Profanity Peak pack have killed or injured six cattle and probably five others. The state’s policy authorizes “lethal removal” after confirming that wolves have preyed on livestock at least four times in one calendar year, or six times in two consecutive years.

Staff writer Jim Camden contributed to this report.

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