Posts Tagged ‘Wedge Pack’


Of Wolves and Huckleberries

By Bob Ferris
There are tons of rumors floating around about the Huckleberry Pack.  Things are being said about wolves, the 2008937557rancher, WDFW and even private property rights.  In this say-anything and believe-anything society we now find ourselves in we have to be discerning and cut the tails off both ends of the information spectrum to find something approaching the truth of this matter.  But there are some things we know and should be concerned about.
The first is the agency behavior.  The public expressed great displeasure at the way the Wedge Pack incident was handled and many of us—including Cascadia Wildlands—were simultaneously critical and stood (and are standing) ready with concrete ideas and solutions for moving forward.   As we look at this Huckleberry Pack situation it was clear that both were ignored. 
Most of my professional life has involved looking at complex ecological, economic and social systems in a conservation context.  And this Huckleberry situation is one of the most complex and myth filled.   Taken in its purest form what the wolves and this huge sheep flock on private timberlands in northeastern Washington State represents is the collision between a nearly two century old effort to transform the West into pastures and woodlots for the benefit of a select few and the desires of the many to see wildlands that are wild.  Both sides of the debate have valid points but rather than searching for solutions many are looking for bigger and uglier conflicts.  That search will ultimately result in poor outcomes for both sides.
In many people’s minds what makes this situation special is that it happens on private lands rather than public because that gets away from the issue of subsidies and below market grazing.  While that is kind of true, rural counties—like Stevens County—are notoriously subsidized by federal monies and by the more urban counties in the state.  Rural road systems and education are two areas where rural residents enjoy amenities far above their federal, state or county tax contributions and there are many others.
2019372475Certainly there are valid reasons for this osmotic flow of tax dollars and there should be no shame in it.  But it also should not be ignored or denied by those whose activities—like ranching and timber harvests—are compromising the water quality, recreational opportunities and ecological services needed or enjoyed by those parties footing some of their bills.  Nor should this situation encourage a sense of self-righteousness or crowing from rural private landowners promoting their reputation for rugged self-reliance, because it only makes these folks look a lot like teenagers plastering their rooms with no trespassing signs. 
On the flipside those in urban areas need also to understand a few things.  First off, animal protein and lumber comes from somewhere.  Only 14% or so of people in the United States are vegans or vegetarians and most of us live in houses so divorcing ourselves from this situation like we are disinterested parties is not productive nor is it honest.  We all have a hand or hands in this. 
We have to be honest too about the wolves and livestock.  Wolves are wild critters and they do occasionally kill livestock and where that happens it is a problem for that producer.  That said, there is really no excuse for comments like those made recently by Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho—a state which seems poised to nominate “lying about wolves” as an Olympic sport.  Leaders should certainly have strongly held beliefs but their leadership should not consist of throwing gasoline on a fire and the complaining about the heat.
Which brings us to sheep.  Domestic sheep are bred to be docile and afraid of their own shadows.  They are as distant in many ways from their canny wild ancestors as teacup poodles are from wolves.  So how truly prudent is it to release these walking, wool-covered cocktail wieners into a rough and rugged, re-wilding landscape?  
Certainly folks should be granted great latitude in the way they manage or use their private lands, but there are limits particularly when those lands often enjoy substantial tax benefits because of their perceived benefits for wildlife and watersheds—which are diminished by sheep and cattle grazing.  Or when the users of these tax-advantaged parcels or public lands expect non-trivial amounts of state and federal assistance to deal with conflicts with endangered wildlife such as the $75,000 cost of controling the Wedge Pack. 
So where does that leave us?  My sense is that this pack was aptly named because huckleberries are fruits used both by humans and wildlife.  When cultivated and over managed huckleberries only provide food for humans and little benefit for wildlife.  And when approached too casually in their wild state there are sometimes conflicts with bears and other wildlife.  But when left in their natural state and sensitively and cautiously approached by humans they yield both a wonderful experience and a tasty treat.
This Labor Day weekend is one of respite for the wolves and is a good time for reflection about this whole affair.  The WDFW, for instance, needs to consider how they move forward and how to repair their doubly bruised reputation with the public they serve. 
This rancher and others need to think about how their businesses can thrive in this re-wilding landscape and how their choices of livestock breeds and management options can lead to conflict and loss or more happy outcomes.  In this they might look at other options such as hardier breeds of sheep and cattle or even bison as Ted Turner has on his Flying D ranch and elsewhere (for more on this latter topic please consider attending one of the Two Talking Wolves tour stops). 
Washington’s Governor Inslee needs to think about how he can help the WDFW deal better with this situation and others.  Our sense is that the best pathway would be what was done in Oregon where the agency, ranchers and wildlife advocacy groups sat down and negotiated rules that were later adopted by the legislators and the Fish and Wildlife Commission.  It took 18 months, but it was worth it.
And wolf advocates must reflect as well.  Based upon comments that I have seen, we need to become more aware and sensitive to the situations faced in rural areas and proceed in an informed and respectful manner.  I know this is difficult—particularly in the face of vitriol—but it is necessary as well as keeping up the pressure needed to get the logical and best parties to the table in Washington.  Please click below to help and share this around the social networks.

Press Release: Petition Filed to Require Nonlethal Steps to Control Washington Wolves

For Immediate Release, June 9, 2014
Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 779-9613
Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 844-8182
Mike Petersen, The Lands Council, (509) 209-2406
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, (541) 525-5087
OLYMPIA, Wash.— Eight conservation groups filed a petition late Friday requesting that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife enact rules that sharply limit the use of lethal control of wolves to respond to livestock depredations. Most prominently the petition asks the state to require livestock producers to exhaust nonlethal measures to prevent depredations before any lethal action can be taken. In 2012 the Department killed seven wolves in the Wedge Pack despite the fact that the livestock producer who had lost livestock had taken little action to protect his stock.2019372475
“The killing of the Wedge Pack in 2012 was a tragic waste of life that highlights the need for clear rules to limit the killing of wolves, which remain an endangered species in the state,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are effective nonlethal measures proven to protect livestock that can, and should, be used before killing wolves is ever considered.”
The groups filed a similar petition last summer. They withdrew it based on a promise from the Department to negotiate rules — in an advisory committee established to help implement Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan — that would encourage the use of nonlethal measures by ranchers as well as produce standards for the Department to adhere to before itself resorting to lethal control of wolves. But livestock producer and sports-hunting groups on the committee refused to consider the petitioners’ proposals, and the Department has indicated it plans to move forward and introduce its own far-less-protective lethal wolf-control rule.
The groups also argue that rules are needed to ensure adherence to Washington’s wolf plan, which was crafted with input from a 17-member stakeholder group, more than 65,000 written comments from the public, and a peer review by 43 scientists and wolf managers. Despite the plan’s formal adoption by the Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2011 as official state policy, Department officials and the Commission have publicly stated they view the plan as merely advisory and key provisions of the plan were ignored when the Wedge Pack was killed. The Commission also adopted a rule last summer that allows wolves to be killed under circumstances the wolf plan does not permit, and the Department has proposed additional changes and definitions of terms to allow even more wolf killing.
“The return of wolves is a boon for Washington,” said Mike Petersen, executive director for The Lands Council. “Not only is it good for the forest and mountains of Washington that need the balance provided by top predators, but a fledgling tourist industry is developing around the viewing of this majestic creature.”
Wolves were driven to extinction in Washington in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. They began to return from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s, and their population has grown to 52 wolves today. Yet Washington’s wolves are far from recovered and face ongoing threats. Last fall a wolf in Pasayten was killed by a deer hunter, and in April of this year, a reward was offered by state officials and conservation groups for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the illegal shooting of a wolf found dead in February in Stevens County. 
The petition to increase protections for wolves was filed by groups representing tens of thousands of Washington residents, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Environmental Law Center, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, The Lands Council, Wildlands Network, Kettle Range Conservation Group and the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Today’s filing of the petition with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission starts the clock ticking on a 60-day statutory period within which the state must respond. If the petition is denied, groups intend to appeal for a final decision by Governor Inslee.

Can We Really Afford Cattle as King Any Longer?

–By Bob Ferris

Over the past several months I have written several pieces on wolves and public lands grazing.  I have written about the ecological impact of cattle.  I have written about the economic impact of cattle.  And I have written about the undue influence of the livestock industry on conservation organizations and public agencies–it should not be lost on folks that the Department of the Interior is run by a rancher.  But none of those pieces seems to hit as hard this piece from King 5 in Seattle.  Why indeed should we pay $80 for a parking pass when cattle pay $1.35?  Why should we invest $75,000 of tax payer dollars to protect $1000 in revenue?  

Please watch the video and pass it along (you can use the share buttons below).  And please sign our petition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to continue federal protection for western wolves.  This is where we should be spending our time and money–keeping it wild.  


WDFW and the Wedge Packā€”Not a Class Act

By Bob Ferris

People who teach in a classroom understand that the game is won or lost and the tone set extremely early in the process.  Setting and communicating clear boundaries and expectations on that first day of class can help head off problems and save a lot time and energy on corrective actions.  By this measure, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and their governing commission failed the Wedge Pack and also failed the public who expects that the agency—first and foremost—to protect the interests of the wildlife under their care.

The fact that WDFW field staff seemed unclear about procedures and policies, everyone except gas station attendants appeared to be verifying wolf depredation claims and agency’s strategy of not answering the phone and pretending to not be home when the concerned and angry public called only added to the Keystone Cop-nature of this whole affair.  In short, through all these actions WDFW has seriously lost the public’s confidence and either needs to make some massive changes or find new leaders that can.
What kind of changes?  First, the agency has to bend over backwards to rebuild trust with the public and remember that WDFW is in the business of species recovery not looking for ways to placate a recalcitrant and generally uncooperative public lands rancher.  There is another state agency that looks after the rancher very well, thank you.
Then WDFW also needs to go back to square one—or day one—in terms of making sure that appropriate expectations are set and the infrastructure is there to forward wolf recovery.  This will be tough because the agency has already shown itself to lack a certain level of gumption when it comes to dealing with the ranching community.  Since the agency has been tested and failed, push back will happen and WDFW will just have to push back harder and stronger.  This probably requires a new team—in short—a new sheriff has to come to town.
The public lands grazing aspect of this and the responsibility of leaseholders to undertake preventative measures and practice proactive stewardship may seem like a sideshow, but it is central to the problem.  The cattle industry has occupied the throne on public lands for a long time and many still embrace a romantic view of cowboys—including me occasionally.  But that inertia and those emotions have to be balanced with facts and reality particularly as we look at actions on our public estate.  
The last figures I reviewed peg the taxpayer costs of public lands grazing in the West at a cool $100 million annually.  Grazing fees on public lands are much, much lower than those on private.  Add to those costs the environmental impacts of grazing from degraded habitat and water quality that translate directly into fewer elk and deer plus less fish and song birds to diminished recreational opportunities on our wildlands.  I respect and often like ranchers, but in a multi-use setting there can be no kings or fiefdoms and all public lands users have to act responsibly.  And given that hunting, fishing, and wolf-oriented tourism are all economic engines in their own rights, it really begs the question of whether we can or should still treat these lands as some sort of subsidized bovine day care facility for a handful of ranchers.  This needs to be examined fully and acted on.
To address the above the agency needs to insist—particularly on public lands—that ranchers make sure they are doing everything possible to stem potential problems.  Conditions have changed with the natural arrival of the wolf and ranchers can no longer expect to just dump their cattle at the beginning of the season and pick them up at the end.  WDFW needs to simultaneously set expectations and also offer training and assistance.  And ranchers need to remember that the original public lands grazing fees were set lower because these were lands where conditions such as predation would be higher.
People in Washington State and around the world are deeply saddened by the loss of the Wedge Pack—particularly so—because this was a tragedy that could and should have been avoided.   The agency likely saved themselves from embarrassing court time through some last minute adjustments, but in the court of public opinion the judgment is strongly and painfully against them.  To satisfy that judgment, WDFW needs to remember and be true to all aspects of their mission, vision and goals (see here) and get to the job of recovering wolves, because the “class” is currently out there shooting spit wads and paperclips and it has to stop now.
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Wolves’ Return Displeases Some Hunters, Farmers

September 9, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

By Bill Sheets, Herald Writer
Gray wolves, also known as timberwolves, were once nearly hunted out of existence in the 48 contiguous United States but are bouncing back. Their numbers have grown from less than 700 in 1960 to more than 6,000 at the end of 2010. Currently there are an estimated 25 to 30 in Washington, in the eastern part of the state and the Cascade Mountains.
National Park Service Conservationists applaud the continued recovery of the gray wolf, saying its helps restore a natural balance to the ecoysystem, while hunters and farmers in Eastern Washington and Idaho say wolves are attacking livestock and depleting elk populations in some areas. State wildlife officials killed a wolf last month in northeastern Washington after an apparent attack at a cattle ranch there.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service An endangered gray wolf peers out from a snow covered shelter. Conservationists applaud the continued recovery of the gray wolf, saying its helps restore a natural balance to the ecoysystem, while hunters and farmers in Eastern Washington and Idaho say wolves are attacking livestock and depleting elk populations in some areas. State wildlife officials killed a wolf last month in northeastern Washington after an apparent attack at a cattle ranch there.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service This undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a gray wolf. Gray wolves, also known as timberwolves, were once nearly hunted out of existence in the 48 contiguous United States but are bouncing back. Their numbers have grown from less than 700 in 1960 to more than 6,000 at the end of 2010. Currently there are an estimated 25 to 30 in Washington, in the eastern part of the state and the Cascade Mountains.
Gray wolves, once completely wiped out in the state, are back and their numbers are growing.
Conservationists applaud the development, saying it will help restore balance to the ecosystem and preserve a native species that hunting and trapping nearly eliminated in the contiguous 48 states.
Others, particularly hunters and farmers, aren't so happy about the wolves' resurgence. State wildlife officials recently killed one wolf in Eastern Washington for attacks on livestock and plan to kill four more.
Hunters blame the wolves for drops in the elk population in Idaho and say the same could happen here.
"They're a predatory animal and they follow the meat, and when it runs out they're going to keep following," said Curt Low of Arlington, an Everett fire captain who hunts deer and elk near Ellensburg.
"It'll happen everywhere unless they make a change."
Wolves were spotted in Washington in 2005 — the first documented sightings in the state since the 1930s. 
Wolf populations are healthy in Canada, according to the International Wolf Center, an education group based in Minnesota. The animals have rebounded strongly in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. In recent years, some of these wolves have migrated from the north, east and southeast to Eastern Washington and the Cascades, state wildlife officials said. No wolves have been imported or reintroduced into the state, they said.
It's possible wolves could migrate to Snohomish County, though state officials say it's difficult to predict when, or even if, this will occur.
"We are at early stages of wolf recovery," said David Ware, game division manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Therefore dispersal and establishing new packs is at a slow pace."
One of two confirmed packs in the Cascade Mountains is located perhaps 50 miles from Gold Bar: wolves from the Teanaway pack roam between Cle Elum and Wenatchee. At the end of 2011, there were three adults and four pups in this pack, according to the state.
The other Cascades pack, the Lookout pack, is centered in the Methow Valley area of Okanogan County. This was the first in the state to be confirmed as a pack, in 2008. Since then, the number of packs has grown quickly with most located in the northeastern corner of the state. There are now eight confirmed packs and four other areas in which packs are believed to live, containing a total of 25 to 30 wolves, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Poaching reduced the Lookout Pack from 10 wolves in 2008 to two or possibly three animals, wildlife officials have said. Three members of a Twisp family pleaded guilty in April to charges related to killing endangered wolves and attempting to smuggle a wolf hide to Canada. They face fines of more than $70,000.
A few solitary wolves have been seen in other parts of the state, though none have been reported in the Cascades outside the two packs, said Nate Pamplin, assistant wildlife director for the department.
A pack is defined as containing at least one breeding pair raising two or more pups through the end of a calendar year. 
Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association in Ellensburg, says the Teanaway pack could easily move west.
"The wolves from the Teanaway pack in King County could be in Snohomish County (in two days) without any problem," he said.
Field said he hasn't heard any specific concerns from Snohomish County farmers about wolves, but he said if livestock are preyed upon while the wolves are still listed as endangered, not much can be done because the wolves can't legally be killed.
Field believes lethal measures are the only ones that work, especially in remote, rugged areas where fencing, lighting and penning aren't always practical.
"It's a rugged forest grazing environment," he said.
In Washington, wolves are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of the state. In Eastern Washington, where numbers have grown in recent years, wolves have been removed from the list. They are now managed under a conservation plan by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The department created a management plan last year that aims for continued recovery of the species while providing for ways to prevent or address problems caused by wolves preying on livestock or wildlife. 
"Wolves are a part of Washington's wildlife heritage," according to a statement on the department's website. The Legislature requires the department "to preserve, protect and perpetuate all of the native wildlife of the state."
Wolves help keep elk, deer and moose populations under control, state officials say. Wolves prey on smaller animals, such as rabbits, as well.
"As with other predators, such as cougars, bears, and coyotes, wolf-prey balances are maintained over time, with highs and lows in populations of both," according to the statement.
For gray wolves to be removed from the endangered species list, the state has set a goal of 15 confirmed breeding pairs, or packs, to be established for at least three years and distributed evenly throughout the state.
Non-lethal measures should be used first to deter wolves from killing livestock, according to the plan. These include fencing, keeping animals penned in at night, patrols and tracking wolves with radio collars.
The plan for wolves in Eastern Washington does allow for killing of wolves, however, if they're found to be preying on livestock and other measures have failed.
The state has done just that in northeastern Washington. Officials shot a wolf Aug. 7 after one calf at the Diamond M ranch in northern Stevens County was killed and several other cattle injured in attacks in July. Wildlife officials now say they plan to kill four more wolves after two more livestock deaths were reported this week at the same ranch. Those deaths are now being investigated.
Wildlife officials determined the July attacks were made by wolves from a pack nearby. Ranchers in the area had reported possible attacks on their livestock beginning in 2007.
The goal was to reduce the size of the pack and break the pattern of wolves preying on livestock.
"We can't guarantee that (the) action will prevent future attacks by this pack, but we have clear indications that non-lethal actions alone are unlikely to reduce predation on livestock," Pamplin said.
Conservationists don't believe the kill was warranted. They say there was insufficient evidence to show the attacks were by wolves. Representatives of seven different conservation groups signed a letter sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire protesting the kill.
"This is a simple case of the state not following its own rules," says Bob Ferris, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands, based in Eugene, Ore.
Wolves can have an effect on wildlife as well.
Larry Taylor of Arlington, who has been hunting in Idaho for more than 20 years, said he and other hunters are convinced the increase in wolves is responsible for sharp drops in the number of elk in some areas.
In 1995 and 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 35 wolves into central Idaho. After this, Taylor, 74, said he noticed a decline in the elk population. There are now more than 800 wolves in Idaho.
The wolves "have pretty much killed the elk, they're working on the deer and the moose," he said. He used to see up to four moose per year on his hunting trips, and now "I haven't seen a moose in three years."
In Idaho, a hunter may apply for a permit to kill up to five wolves per year. Idaho has set a goal of 500 wolves for the state, the level from 2005 — the same year that saw a sharp rise in the number of wolf attacks on elk herds and domestic livestock, according to a 2010 report by the Idaho Fish and Game Department.
Still, other factors have affected elk populations as well, such as hunting, drought and harsh winters, according to the report.
In some parts of the state, elk are thriving. Overall, the elk population has dropped from 125,000 when wolves were introduced in the mid-'90s to 100,000 today, the report states.
Hunters such as Taylor and Low believe wolves will multiply in Washington as they did in Idaho.
"There's no way you can get rid of them now," Low said.
If wolf populations increase enough to be removed from protected status, and if they're causing problems for livestock or wildlife, then the state could establish a wolf hunting season and limits as is done in Idaho. If wolves multiply to this point, then the state plan calls for them to be managed as a game species, Ware said.
Conservationists say the whole ecosystem needs to be taken into account with regard to wolves.
Predators such as wolves weed out sick and weak animals, strengthening the stock for deer and elk, conservationists say. 
"Having wolves will make a positive difference for everything, from healthier game populations to a better salmon habitat," said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest in Bellingham. 
If elk have too few predators, they tend to stay near streams and eat down the vegetation, damaging the habitat for salmon, according to Friedman. This has happened along some rivers on the Olympic Peninsula, he said.
There's no evidence to suggest that wolves alone will decimate deer and elk populations, said Ferris of Cascadia Wildlands.
"They never have (done so) in their history of their coexistence, so why would we expect to see that happen now?" he said. To blame wildlife population declines solely on the wolf "is not a robust way of looking at it."
"Wolves belong here," Friedman said. "Top level predators like wolves play an essential role in how nature functions." 
The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Press Release: Washington State Resumes Hunt for Wolves With Aim to Destroy Wedge Pack

For immediate release

September 5, 2012

Contact:    Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
                  Bob Ferris, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463     

OLYMPIA, Wash.— Following two depredations last week, the state of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife ended its brief wolf-hunting reprieve and is again gunning to kill up to four wolves in the Wedge pack, with the aim of potentially breaking up the pack.  

“These wolves should not be killed,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As long as Washington’s wolves remain endangered, every effort should be made to resolve wolf-livestock conflicts through nonlethal means, and by compensation of ranchers — which in this case has already occurred.”

Wolves from the Salmo Pack in Washington (WDFW)


Unlike some of the previous incidents of injury or death of livestock, which the department appeared to have erroneously determined were caused by wolves, the two depredations late last week appear to have indeed been caused by wolves, according to outside experts.  

Minimal action was taken to resolve the conflict with the Wedge pack using nonlethal means, including moving calving to areas not used by wolves, turning the calves out later and sending cowboys to check on the cows more frequently, according to information on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website. Many other actions designed to avoid fatal conflicts between livestock and wolves were not taken, including the use of a range rider or guard animals, or the practice of hazing wolves when they come near livestock. Resolving conflicts using nonlethal measures before killing wolves is a requirement of Washington’s wolf-management plan.

"Regardless of whether or not it is ultimately determined that wolves clearly killed livestock in the Wedge area, the experience to date has indicated that the department needs to take some time to get its ducks in row," said Bob Ferris, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands. "Endangered species such as wolves need to be managed with clear rules and solid procedures by people adequately trained in this process, and we hope to see that in the future."

The department killed a female wolf from the Wedge pack — so named because its range includes a triangle-shaped area defined by the Canadian border and the Kettle and Columbia rivers — on Aug. 7.

Wolves are just beginning to make a comeback in Washington after a government-sponsored program of poisoning, shooting and trapping the animal to extinction in the state. Since the historic return of wolves to Washington in 2008, eight packs have become established in the state. This past December the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted the “Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington,” a stakeholder-developed framework that outlines recovery and management objectives for wolves in Washington.


Relevant Links:

Previous Wedge Pack Press Release 

Wedge Pack Blog Post



Press Release: Washington Wolves Get Temporary Reprieve From Kill Order

For Immediate Release, August 30, 2012

Contact: Tim Ream, Center for Biological Diversity, (541) 531-8541
Bob Ferris, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463
Washington Wolves Get Temporary  Reprieve From Kill Order
State Asked to Cancel Kill Order Permanently
OLYMPIA, Wash.— Following more than a week of pressure from conservation groups and thousands of members of the public, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has temporarily called off the killing of up to four wolves in the Wedge pack in the northeastern part of the state.
“We’re thrilled state officials heard our concerns and gave these wolves a reprieve,” said Tim Ream, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife should never have ordered the killing of endangered wolves based on questionable information and improper standards — we hope very much that the kill orders will be permanently rescinded.”
The controversy began Aug. 17 when the state’s wildlife department announced it intended to kill up to four young wolves in an attempt to stop what it alleged was a pattern of livestock predation by the Wedge pack. According to the agency’s own reports, however, it is not clear that wolves were involved in several of the instances where livestock were injured or died. Still, the state relied on those faulty reports to order the killing of the wolves.
An Aug. 16 field investigation of a dead calf found no evidence of obvious bite or scratch marks to the hide and no evidence of wolf tracks or scat near the dead calf, leading two outside experts to conclude that wolves’ involvement was questionable. One of the experts observed that “the apparent injuries to the calf appeared superficial and that if a wolf killed it, the wolf would have had more gums than teeth.”
“Washington’s wolf-management plan makes clear wolves cannot be killed until specific criteria have been met,” said Bob Ferris (see blog), executive director of Cascadia Wildlands. “In this case, the criteria have clearly not been met, and the wolf that has already been killed should not have been.” That wolf was a female member of the Wedge pack, shot by state wildlife agents on Aug. 7.
In addition to documenting that wolves have clearly killed livestock, the department is also required to document that nonlethal measures to prevent depredations have been attempted and that unnatural attractions, like bone piles and carcass piles common to some ranching operations, were not present. None of the depredation reports provide any documentation of nonlethal measures taken to resolve the situation, nor have requests to the department produced any documentation.
Last week seven groups sent a letter to the department outlining these shortcomings, and thousands of concerned Washingtonians flooded the governor’s office with phone calls. On Wednesday, State Senator Kevin Ranker sent the state wildlife agency a letter expressing similar concerns.
This pack is known as the Wedge pack because its range includes a triangle-shaped area defined by the Canadian border and the Kettle and Columbia rivers. The alleged incidents took place on public land leased for grazing within the Colville National Forest.
Wolves are just beginning to make a comeback in Washington after a government- sponsored program of poisoning, shooting and trapping the animal to extinction in the state. There are currently eight packs of wolves in Washington since the animal’s return in 2008. This past December the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted the “Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington,” a stakeholder-developed framework that outlines recovery and management objectives for the state’s wolves.
The groups calling for a more thorough investigation of the alleged wolf incidents include Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society of the United States, Snohomish Group of the Sierra Club Washington State Chapter, Western Environmental Law Center and Wolf Haven International.
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