State wildlife officials ordered the killing of more wolves Wednesday, though environmental groups hope to temporarily block the kill order in court.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife ordered the incremental removal of wolves living in the Profanity Peak area after some killed a calf and injured five others, the first incident occurring on Sept. 4. The animals were on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment.
The wolves inhabit the same general area where members of the former Profanity Peak Pack once ranged. Members of that pack were killed by WDFW in 2016 following documented cattle depredations.
A year later, the agency killed members of the Sherman pack, whose range is close to the old Profanity Peak Pack range.
“This is a very difficult situation, especially given the history of wolf-livestock conflict in this area,” WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said in a news release.
Although Seattle-based Conservation Northwest has supported lethal removal in the past, it does not support Wednesday’s decision.
Paula Swedeen, Conservation Northwest policy director, said the group isn’t supporting lethal removal because “this is the third time in three years in the same spot.”
She emphasized that Conservation Northwest still believes lethal removal should be a tool available to WDFW and said they have no plans to try and block the department’s kill order.
However, she said she wonders if the pattern indicates that something else needs to be done to nonlethally deter the attacks.
“We still want to continue discussions and figure out a better way,” she said.
Meanwhile, ranchers in the area are increasingly frustrated, said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda. Additionally, he said, delays caused by lawsuits filed by environmental groups are making Northeast ranchers angrier.
“We’re bearing the brunt of the whole thing right here,” he said. “We are dealing with all the mistakes of wolf recovery up here (in Northeast Washington).”
Kretz believes that WDFW should have completely eliminated the Profanity Peak Pack in 2016.
“If all those groups had allowed the process to go forward and they’d removed the Profanity Pack, we wouldn’t be having this problem,” he said.
He said he believes, though he can’t prove, that the wolves killing and injuring cattle now are from the former Profanity Peak Pack.
Eight of the 11 Profanity Peak Pack members were killed in 2016 or 2017, said Jay Shepherd, the wolf program lead for Conservation Northwest and one of the founders of the Northeast Washington Wolf-Cattle Collaborative.
There are multiple issues causing the continued killing and injury of cattle in the Profanity Peak Pack area, Shepherd said.
The Profanity Peak area is surrounded by other wolf packs, the forest is dense and there are few roads, which makes it harder for ranchers to keep track of their cattle.
“There seems to be a supply of wolves to the east and north that want to be there,” he said.
Although WDFW officials said they plan to start killing wolves Thursday, the move could be blocked if a court decides to intervene.
Following the Sherman Pack action, a judge ruled that WDFW must wait 8 court hours between the announcement of a lethal action order and the execution of the order.
In August, WDFW ordered the killing of members of the Togo wolf pack. The order was temporarily blocked by two environmental groups – the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands.
The lawsuit argues, among other things, that WDFW is not using the latest science to make wolf management decisions and is in violation of the state’s environmental policy act.
The move to halt the killing is supported by the Spokane-based Lands Council, though the group is not party to the suit.
In the past Weiss has referenced a 2018 study that found killing wolves may help ranchers in the immediate area but actually pushes the wolves to other areas and does not reduce overall incidents.
A 2014 study found killing wolves actually led to more dead sheep and cows the following year. The study was authored by controversial former Washington State University professor Rob Wielgus.
A judge ruled at the end of August that WDFW could continue. The underlying lawsuit remains in place with no date for a trial.
Amaroq Weiss, the West Coast wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said CBD plans to file another motion for a restraining order in the Profanity Peak case. The Center for Biological Diversity is based in Arizona and Cascadia Wildlands is based in Oregon.
“The solution is to move the cattle,” she said. “It’s appalling that the department has issued yet another kill order on behalf of the same livestock operator.”
WDFW’s lethal removal policy allows killing wolves if they prey on livestock three times in a 30-day period or four times in a 10-month period. That policy was developed by WDFW and its 18-member Wolf Advisory Group, which represents the concerns of environmentalists, hunters and livestock ranchers.
The policy also stipulates that cattle producers have employed at least two proactive deterrence techniques. Lethal control is allowed in the eastern third of the state where wolves are protected by state endangered species rules. Wolves remain federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state.
Despite losses of roughly a dozen wolves a year from selective state-authorized lethal control, plus poaching, vehicle collisions and other human-related causes, Washington’s wolf population has grown each year. A minimum of 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs was reported by the WDFW this winter.
The wolves in the Profanity Peak Pack area were not included in that assessment. Wolves were documented in the area in June.
Shepherd, who lives in Chewelah and works closely with ranchers, said its clear the system is not working for anyone.
“Having the same thing happen every year and expecting a better outcome … it’s kind of the definition of insanity,” he said.
The issue is finding a solution that works for everyone involved and doesn’t put the financial burden on ranchers.
“One thing I know is that they (ranchers) want a long-term sustainable solution, too. They don’t want this,” he said. “They want this to stop. Because, no pun intended, they’re bleeding money.”