The range riders were supposed to be watching cattle on grazing allotments in Ferry County.
Instead, according to documents revealed in late January by court proceedings, they appear to have been elsewhere at times they were supposed to be on the range. Buying truck parts in Idaho. Staying at a casino hotel in Airway Heights. Attending a horse auction. One even went to a two-day meeting in Ellensburg, organized by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
While the cattle the riders were contracted by the wildlife department to monitor were left unwatched, some were injured or killed by wolves.
As a result, all 10 wolves in the Old Profanity Territory pack were later gunned down by the department – the third time since 2016 that the state has eradicated a wolf pack in the same location.
Consistent, quality range riding is an important part of protecting both livestock and wolves. But instead of doing their jobs, it appears these range riders lied, wolves died, and the public footed the bill.
While the amount of money paid for hours that weren’t worked isn’t huge – just over $2,000 – the full cost of the fraud was far greater.
The state paid thousands of dollars to cover the subsequent law-enforcement investigation, and many thousands more to gun down wolves in 2018 and 2019. If the range riders had done their jobs, the conflicts that killed those wolves might have been reduced – or even prevented.
Department staff suspected these problems as far back as summer 2018 and requested an investigation be opened that October, yet still killed wolves that fall, and again in 2019, in the very same places where cattle had been left unmonitored.
Notes from a department staff meeting held in July 2019 to decide whether to kill the remaining members of the OPT pack reveal staff acknowledging that they “have never had actual, quality range riding on this landscape” and that “quality range riding is an important expectation and it is not happening.”
From its eradication of the Wedge pack in 2012 till now, there have been many reasons to despair over how this department handles conflicts between livestock and wolves.
First, it refuses to acknowledge the best available science, which has shown that nonlethal methods are more effective and less expensive than killing wolves.
Second, the agency has thumbed its nose at transparency and failed to honor its obligation to manage wolves for the public trust rather than for a handful of private, for-profit livestock businesses.
A few examples: killing a breeding pack member after promising not to; saying salt blocks, attracting cattle to wolf den sites, were promptly removed when they weren’t; asserting livestock operators had been removing sick or injured cows and moved cattle away from key wolf-use sites, when those measures had not been taken.
And, perhaps worst of all, the department killed the last four members of the OPT pack in the early morning, hours just before the start of a scheduled 9a.m. court hearing in which a judge would rule on a legal motion seeking a court order to prevent the killings.
My organization and others – plus hundreds of thousands of members of the public – have over the years called and written to the department, the Fish and Wildlife Commission that oversees the department, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Our message has been simple: When it comes to wolf policy, something is rotten in the state of Washington.
Gov. Inslee agrees. In September he directed the department to reduce its reliance on killing wolves for conflict resolution, writing that the annual killing of wolves in northeastern Washington for such conflicts is unacceptable.
The death toll of wolves killed by the state currently stands at 31. And yet Washington has only 126 endangered wolves, compared to nearly 1.2 million cattle.
It’s time things changed – to save wolves, protect cattle and keep taxpayers from having their hard-earned tax dollars misspent.
Amaroq Weiss is a West Coast wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.