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Washington wildlife officials mistakenly kill wolf pup

Sept. 9, 2022 Updated Tue., Sept. 13, 2022 at 9:16 p.m.

A gray wolf is shown in this photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  (Gary Kramer/AP)
A gray wolf is shown in this photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Gary Kramer/AP)

Washington wildlife officials mistakenly killed a wolf pup Thursday believing the animal was an adult member of the Smackout pack.

“It was unintentional to remove a wolf pup rather than an adult,” said Julia Smith, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s wolf policy lead. “Biologists who saw the wolf evaluated it and based on their professional opinion thought it was an adult from a distance. Following removal, they saw it was a pup.”

On Sept. 1, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind authorized the killing of one wolf from the Smackout pack territory after repeated attacks on cattle in Stevens and Pend Oreille counties. On Thursday, an agency biologist killed the wolf pup as part of that order. On closer examination it was unclear whether the wolf was a member of the Smackout pack.

“Although this wolf was in the immediate proximity of and appeared to be traveling with members of the Smackout pack, based on the location of the removal and subsequent discovery of Dirty Shirt wolves in the area, it is not clear whether the wolf was traveling with the Smackout pack or the Dirty Shirt pack,” Smith saidin an email.

WDFW suspended all lethal removal operations following that killing. Smith said while the pup’s pack membership remained unclear, the death occurred in traditional Smackout territory, thus meeting the requirements of the lethal removal order.

“The director authorized the lethal removal of one wolf from the Smackout pack territory, which occurred,” she said.

Prior to the order to kill a wolf from the Smackout pack agency officials documented five depredation events affecting three different livestock producers resulting in four dead and two injured calves since Aug. 17. There have been no documented wolf depredations in the Smackout pack territory since Aug. 31.

There were a minimum of 206 wolves and 33 packs in Washington state in 2021 and the wolf population has continued to grow each year since wolves naturally returned to Washington in 2008.

The death shows the department’s wolf-livestock rules need to be codified, said Samantha Bruegger, the executive director of Washington Wildlife First. In June, the WDFW Commission voted against doing so, sticking with the wolf-livestock protocols developed in the 14 years since wolves returned to the state.

“By accidentally gunning down a wolf pup from the wrong pack, the department has made clear how little the public can trust it to manage Washington’s iconic wolves,” Bruegger said in an email. “We need rules for wolves, we needed them when we first asked for them a decade ago and sadly we still need them today.”

Washington Wildlife First has been a frequent and vocal critic of WDFW with the stated goal of reforming the agency. The accidental killing calls into question the state’s lethal removal policy, she said, arguing the “department’s inability to distinguish one pack from another calls into question the basis for attributing these predations to any particular pack.”

Smith, the statewide wolf coordinator, said that lethal removals are always difficult.

“There is no way to make these operations perfect and guarantee a specific target,” she said. “It is the challenging nature of the work; I have no way to explain it other than that. This is as difficult and upsetting for us as it is for our engaged communities.”

Correction: Due to a reporter’s error Julia Smith’s title was misstated. She is the wolf policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

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