Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife director Kelly Susewind on Friday reauthorized WDFW staff to lethally remove wolves from the Togo pack territory in response to what the department has deemed “repeated depredations of cattle on grazing lands in the Kettle River range” of Ferry County. The reauthorization allows for up to two wolves to be removed through lethal removal permits and WDFW removal efforts.
This may leave the pack with just one or two surviving members, according to the department’s annual wolf report released in April.
The most recent incident, discovered on June 5 but which occurred roughly a week prior, involved a calf alleged to have been injured by a Togo pack wolf.
According to the department, the Togo pack had been involved in seven depredations in the last 10 months. In August, Susewind reauthorized the lethal removal of wolves from the Togo pack territory in response to “repeated livestock depredation.” WDFW attempted removals under that authorization but were unsuccessful.
“This kill order makes little sense,” said Amaroq Weiss, a senior West Coast wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The department hasn’t radio-collared any Togo pack members, so it can’t be sure a Togo wolf was involved. Issuing a kill order for an injured calf that was returned to pasture is not an appropriate response.”
WDFW said several proactive wolf conflict-deterrence measures had been in place prior to turning out the herd on a private pasture. These included daily monitoring by range riders charged with looking for sick and injured livestock, though the injured calf in question’s injuries went undetected for a week. After examination, the calf was turned back out to pasture.
“There are numerous range riders on the scene per the report. How many of them know how to track and find wolves so they know where they are and can then keep livestock out of the area?” asked Chris Bachman, Wildlife Program Director of The Lands Council.
“There is no standard for what a range rider is supposed to be doing,” Bachman added. “Until we have that, saying there are range riders working near daily doesn’t mean anything. What are they doing on a near daily basis?
“Wolves are a public resource, the public must know what is being done to protect them and keep livestock out of harms way. Range riding must be standardized.”
Several wildlife advocate groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday to ensure the U.S. Forest Service protects endangered gray wolves in the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington where livestock ranching activities have contributed to conflict. They contend negligence on the part of the federal agency has resulted in the deaths of 26 wolves since 2012, including the total destruction of both the Profanity Peak Pack and the Old Profanity Territory Pack.
The lawsuit challenges the Forest Service’s revised Colville National Forest Plan for failing to evaluate how the agency’s federally permitted livestock grazing program adversely affects wolves – a species eradicated from most of the contiguous United States by the 1920s.
The groups are also challenging the Forest Service’s approval of cattle grazing for Diamond M Ranch, which is responsible for the majority of wolf deaths in the Colville National Forest since 2012, without requiring measures to prevent these wolf-livestock conflicts from recurring.
WDFW staff removed one wolf on Sept. 2, 2018 after Susewind’s August authorization to use incremental lethal control in the Togo pack. After subsequent alleged livestock depredations by the pack, the director authorized the lethal removal of the remaining three wolves in the Togo pack on Nov. 7, 2018, and issued a permit to one livestock owner; no wolves were removed during that effort.
“We’re incensed to learn of yet another wolf-kill order from the state,” Weiss said. “The department’s irrational rush to kill these wolves shows exactly why Washington needs to create rules to protect these endangered animals. Killing wolves should only be a last resort.”
A WDFW release said the proactive and responsive nonlethal deterrents used by the affected livestock producer in the area this grazing season have not curtailed further depredations. The department says Susewind’s decision is consistent with the guidance of the state’s current Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and the lethal removal provisions of WDFW’s wolf-livestock interaction protocol.
“The gray wolf only began reclaiming its historic habitat in Washington around a decade ago, yet the Forest Service entirely ignored the management implications of this native carnivore’s return to the Colville,” explained Jennifer Schwartz, staff attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “The Forest Service is legally obligated to explore measures for reducing these recurring conflicts so wolves can hold their rightful place on this forest and carry out their critical ecological role. This deliberate agency inaction is contrary to federal law.”
WDFW expects depredations to continue based on the history in this pack area.
“It is the responsibility of National Forest leadership to protect, restore, and maintain wildlife habitat, but it has abdicated its authority,” said Timothy Coleman, director for Kettle Range Conservation Group. “Whether you love wildlife, like to hunt and fish, or enjoy beautiful trails free of manure, putting one cattle corporation’s profits ahead of all other interests is a blatantly outrageous waste of our Public Land.”
WDFW believes the lethal removal of wolves in the Togo pack is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach statewide recovery objectives. WDFW has documented one known wolf mortality in the state since the beginning of the year. In previous years, WDFW has documented 12–21 mortalities per year and the population has continued to grow and expand its range.
WDFW is providing one full business day advance public notice before initiating lethal removal activity. No lethal removal activity will occur prior to Tuesday.
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