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WDFW authorizes lethal action in Wedge wolf pack territory

UPDATED: Sat., July 25, 2020

FILE – On Thursday, July 23, 2020, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife authorized lethal action in Wedge wolf pack territory.  (AP)
FILE – On Thursday, July 23, 2020, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife authorized lethal action in Wedge wolf pack territory. (AP)

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife director Kelly Susewind on Thursday, July 23, authorized WDFW staff to lethally remove a wolf from the Wedge pack territory in response to what it called “repeated depredations of cattle on grazing lands” in Stevens County.

The department said the “proactive and responsive nonlethal deterrents used by the affected livestock producers in the area this grazing season have not curtailed further depredations.”

WDFW said the 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 Department of Fish and Wildlife wrongly thinks it can shoot its way into coexistence with wolves,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The department’s relentless wolf-killing in Northeast Washington shows exactly why the state needs new, enforceable rules for handling livestock-wolf issues, especially in areas of chronic conflict.”

In a separate action, conservation groups petitioned Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday to order WDFW to draft enforceable rules that limit when the state can kill endangered wolves for conflicts with livestock.

The appeal, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians, seeks a reversal of the commission’s June 26 denial of the groups’ formal petition for wolf management rules.

“The state’s constant killing of wolves shows that the current system’s completely broken,” said Sophia Ressler, a Washington wildlife advocate and staff attorney at the Center. “New rules would save wolves, prevent livestock losses and provide the accountability the people of Washington deserve in the management of our endangered wolves.”

Also on Thursday, a King County Superior Court judge found in favor of the WDFW in a case that challenged the 2019 lethal removal of members of the Old Profanity Territory wolf pack.

According to the conservation group, the state has killed 31 wolves since 2012, 26 for the same livestock operator in the Kettle River Range in Northeast Washington.

The department’s rationale for authorizing lethal removal of a Wedge wolf is as follows:

  • WDFW has documented nine depredation incidents (five within the last 30 days) resulting in two dead livestock and 10 injured livestock since May 11 attributed to the Wedge pack. All nine events were classified as confirmed wolf depredations.
  • At least two proactive deterrence measures and responsive deterrence measures were implemented by each of the two 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.

“It’s disturbing that the solution is to once again kill wolves for being wolves rather than work to provide adequate range riding practices in the first place,” said Zoë Hanley, northwest representative at Defenders of Wildlife. “Simply locating injured cattle is not effective range riding, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife should not reward this behavior.”

In June, WDFW authorized lethal action in the Togo Pack. In an update on Thursday, WDFW said it has not removed any wolves since the authorization but made multiple attempts. WDFW has not documented any wolf depredations in the Togo pack territory since June 6. WDFW said the pack has been involved in one depredation in the last 10 months and zero in the last 30 days.

WDFW expects depredations to continue even with nonlethal tools being used. Staff also believe there are no reasonable, additional reactive nonlethal tools that could be deployed.

“It is time our Department of Fish and Wildlife steps up and starts protecting recovering native carnivores and promoting coexistence,” said Chris Bachman, wildlife program director for The Lands Council. “We all want to see rural communities thrive, and WDFW’s current policy is failing wolf recovery and our rural citizens. There are citizens of this state that want wolves recovered and are willing to help and promote co-existence. WDFW policy is hindering coexistence with local wildlife and widening the cultural divide.”

According to the department, the lethal removal of a wolf from the Wedge pack territory “is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach the statewide recovery objective.”

WDFW has documented two known wolf mortalities in the state since Jan 1.

In previous years, WDFW has documented 12 to 21 mortalities per year, and the population has continued to grow and expand its range.

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

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