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WDFW reauthorizes lethal action in Wedge wolf pack territory

Aug. 11, 2020 Updated Tue., Aug. 11, 2020 at 3 p.m.

FILE - In this April 18, 2008, file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is a gray wolf. The WDFW has reissued a lethal removal order for the Wedge Pack in Northeast Washington.   (Gary Kramer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
FILE - In this April 18, 2008, file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is a gray wolf. The WDFW has reissued a lethal removal order for the Wedge Pack in Northeast Washington.  (Gary Kramer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

On Tuesday, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife director Kelly Susewind reauthorized WDFW staff to lethally remove wolves from the Wedge pack territory in response to what the department has determined to be repeated depredations of cattle on grazing lands in Stevens County. The Department believes there are currently two adult wolves in the pack.

On July 27, WDFW lethally removed an adult, non-breeding female member of the Wedge wolf pack. These lethal removal orders for the Wedge pack are in response to depredations that have occurred on U.S. Forest Service grazing allotments that sit in a high-conflict zone.

Following the previous lethal removal, WDFW staff conducted multiple investigations of livestock reported as depredated by wolves in the Wedge pack territory. Of these investigations, nine livestock belonging to two different livestock producers were determined by WDFW staff to have been injured or killed by wolves (one probable mortality and eight confirmed injuries) in six different events.

“While it’s a tough and emotional decision, we feel that a second lethal removal is necessary,” said Staci Lehman, WDFW communications manager for Eastern Washington. “Considering the continued pattern of attacks on livestock, depredations are likely to continue if left unaddressed. And, we don’t believe this action will slow the recovery of wolves in Washington – particularly because there’s no evidence that this pack has pups.

“A second lethal removal will impact people on both sides of the wolf issue – we understand and feel the weight of that acutely. Yet, this is a part of managing the difficult balance between the needs of wolves, livestock and humans, as we strive to co-exist.”

Based on the age of the documented injuries, two of these events are believed to have occurred after the July 27 lethal removal. As such, Susewind decided to reinitiate lethal removal actions.

Conservation groups decried the decision. 

“We are sickened that the Department plans to destroy another wolf pack,” said Amaroq Weiss, a senior West Coast wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“A pattern has played out this year with the Wedge pack where injured or dead livestock are not discovered until as much as a week after predation has occurred. Clearly, livestock operators are not effectively monitoring their cattle or taking other proactive measures that would minimize conflicts with wolves.”

The proactive and responsive non-lethal deterrents used by the affected livestock producers in the area this grazing season have not curtailed further depredations. Susewind’s decision is consistent with the guidance of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and the lethal removal provisions of the Department’s 2017 wolf-livestock interaction protocol.

“The cycle of shooting Wedge pack wolves continues because there is limited collaboration between ranchers, range riding organizations, the U.S. Forest Service and WDFW,” said Zoë Hanley, Northwest Program Representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “This cycle will not stop until we invest in interventions that make a difference, including sufficient range riding efforts and moving cattle out of high-use wolf areas.

“Implementing proactive solutions requires partnership and all parties should be held accountable for their role in reducing or exacerbating conflict. Defenders of Wildlife will continue to press for strategies and policies that protect wolves and provide a future for coexistence between wolves and people.”

WDFW has documented 16 depredation events (12 within the last 30 days) resulting in four dead livestock and 19 injured livestock since May 11 attributed to the Wedge pack. All events were considered confirmed wolf depredation incidents with the exception of one probable incident.

According to WDFW, at least two proactive deterrence measures and responsive deterrence measures were implemented by each of the three livestock producers affected by the depredations.

The department documented these deterrents in the agency’s “wolf-livestock mitigation measures” checklist, with date entries for deterrent tools and coordination with the producers and range riders.

WDFW expects depredations to continue even with non-lethal tools being utilized. Staff also believe there are no reasonable, additional, responsive, non-lethal tools that could be deployed.

According to WDFW, the lethal removal of one or two wolves from the Wedge pack territory is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach the statewide recovery objective. WDFW has documented three known wolf mortalities in the state since Jan 1. In previous years, WDFW has documented 12-21 mortalities per year and the population has continued to grow and expand its range.

The Department’s wolf plan also modeled lethal removal to help inform decision makers during this stage of recovery.

WDFW discussed the impacts of removing one or two wolves from the Wedge pack territory and determined the current level of mortality should not negatively impact the ability to recover wolves in Washington.

WDFW is providing one full business day (eight hours) advance public notice before initiating lethal removal activity. The next update is scheduled for Aug. 18.

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