The last two wolves in the Wedge Wolf Pack territory have been killed after investigations showed the pack was responsible for 16 depredations of cattle in Stevens County, according to an announcement Monday from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The two remaining wolves, an adult male and an adult female, were lethally removed on Aug. 13, just days after department director Kelly Susewind reauthorized lethal action in Wedge Pack territory. The last documented livestock depredation occurred on Aug. 1, according to the department.
WDFW Wolf Policy Lead Donny Martorello said in a statement that he understands people on both sides of the wolf issue will have strong emotions about the loss of the Wedge Pack.
“WDFW’s job is to protect fish and wildlife, yet there have been real challenges in this case,” Martorello said. “Finding the balance for wolves and livestock-based livelihoods to co-exist in not always as easy as we’d like it to be.”
After a July 27 lethal removal of an adult, non-breeding female member of the pack, WDFW conducted multiple investigations of livestock reported as killed by wolves. Investigations by department staff showed nine livestock belonging to two different livestock producers were injured or killed by wolves in six different events, according to the department.
The Wedge Pack territory was in the northern part of Stevens County in the Colville National Forest. A previous Wedge Pack was also lethally removed in 2012 when seven wolves in the pack were killed. Since then, 34 wolves have been killed by the state, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
On Friday, the department issued an order to lethally remove one or two wolves from the Leadpoint Pack, another wolf pack in Stevens County that the agency says is responsible for 11 depredations since June 19.
In last week’s announcement to reauthorize lethal action, the department said proactive and responsive non-lethal deterrents did not stop further depredations. Also in the announcement, the department said the lethal removal of the one or two wolves from the territory was not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to recover.
But conservation groups think the state could be doing more to help wolves and cattle coexist.
The removal of the Wedge Pack is just the beginning of a cycle that has been going on for years, and another pack will likely move into this territory soon, said Sophia Ressler, a Washington wildlife advocate at the Center.
“(The killing of wolves) is occurring repeatedly,” Ressler said. “The department isn’t making meaningful changes that they need to in order to stop this cycle.”
Wolves will continue to recover, said Chris Bachman, wildlife director at the Lands Council. It’s going to take a lot of people working together and sharing responsibility to ensure wolves and livestock can coexist, he added.
“This is not a problem you can kill your way out of,” Bachman said.
The Center, along with Cascadia Wildlands, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians, petitioned Gov. Jay Inslee on July 23 to order WDFW to draft enforceable rules for when the state can kill endangered wolves for conflicts with livestock. The appeal came after the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission denied the conservation groups’ petition for wolf management rules in late June. Ressler said she expects to hear a decision on the appeal within the next three weeks.
Examples of changes the conservation groups wish to see include enforcing nonlethal deterrence measures and stricter requirements for range riding, the practice of riding around a herd to spot and prevent conflict between wolves and cattle.
Considering range riding, which many advocates say is ill-defined by the state, a nonlethal deterrent is unacceptable, said Jocelyn Leroux, Washington and Montana director for Western Watersheds Project.
“The Department’s trigger-happy wolf management program needs to change,” Leroux said in a statement. “Wolf management can no longer be governed by livestock producers who are a small minority of Washingtonians.”
Wolves are going to keep returning, Ressler said. The state as well as cattle livestock producers need to figure out how to coexist with them.
“They were here first,” Bachman said. “We need to figure out how to let them be.”
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