OLYMPIA — Wolf advocates rallied Thursday outside the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, calling on the state to immediately stop shooting wolves and for livestock to be removed from public lands.
Meanwhile, across the state, ranchers in northeastern Washington were trying to prevent depredations on cattle over a wide swathe of the Colville National Forest.
“We do everything we can to protect the cattle. The only other thing we could do is not turn them out,” said Justin Hedrick, co-owner of the Diamond M Ranch, the most high profile of the cattle operations losing cattle to livestock in the forest this summer.
“We’re not the only ones affected. We’re the ones getting the media on it,” he said. “Nobody wants the attention, but we feel we have to put ourselves out there for there to be remedies.”
As of early Thursday afternoon, WDFW had reported shooting six wolves in the Profanity Peak pack. WDFW was due to break its week-long silence and issue an update in the afternoon on the hunt for the pack’s remaining five wolves.
Since WDFW’s last update, emotions have risen. Hedrick said his family, which has grazed cattle in the Colville for 73 years, have been threatened.
“We’re getting death threats every day,” he said. “It’s very troubling. They call all day long, all night long.”
At the rally, Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity told the some 80 wolf advocates that nobody should be threatened.
“That has no place in this discussion at all,” she said afterward.
Weiss said WDFW’s policy of not providing more frequent updates on its wolf hunt has created an information void. “I think that’s a flaw with their protocol,” she said.
Efforts to obtain comment from the WDFW for this story were unsuccessful.
The information void has been filled, though with questionable accuracy. Washington State University issued a statement Wednesday repudiating comments by Rob Wieglus, the director of the university’s Large Carnivore Conservation. Wieglus told the Seattle Times that the Diamond M Ranch released cows “on top” of a wolf’s den.
The university called the comments “inaccurate and inappropriate” and that cows were turned out more than 4 miles from the den.
Hedrick said depredations are occurring over a large area and forcing cows from the high-elevation pastures they move toward in late summer.
“It’s completely disrupting our entire program,” he said. “The wolves are in an area 30 miles wide and 30, 40 miles long.”
Colville National Forest spokesman Franklin Pemberton said about 4,400 cow-calf pairs are grazing over 583,000 acres in the 1.1 million-acre forest.
Depredations have occurred on four grazing allotments in two watersheds, he said. “I think it’s safe to say there aren’t many places on the national forest where there aren’t wolves.”
Pemberton said the Forest Service went over grazing plans with the Diamond M Ranch owners, including Bill McIrvin, Hedrick’s uncle. WDFW also was involved in pre-grazing discussions about how to avoid conflicts, he said.
“Mr. McIrvin is a permittee in good standing,” Pemberton said. “He’s doing everything right in our view. … He turned out when he was suppose to, where he was suppose to.”
With several troopers standing by, the wolf rally was spirited and peaceful. Wolf activist Brett Haverstick of Moscow, Idaho, led the protesters in a call-and-response chant, “Remove the Cattle! Save the Wolves!”
Eliminating livestock on public lands was a major theme of the rally, along with sympathy for hunted wolves. “Let us not call this lethal control. Let us not call this lethal removal. They are both sanitized terms,” Weiss said.
Livestock were characterized as interlopers. “Wolves are native. Livestock are invasive,” Haverstick said.
Wolf advocates note that ranchers who enter into preventive agreements with WDFW and still lose livestock to wolves are eligible for compensation.
Hedrick said the Diamond M doesn’t want the state’s money, nor does it want taxpayers to spend money protecting their cattle.
“We’re not going to sign away our principles for a dollar,” he said. “If you’re receiving compensation for the losses, you’re saying you’re fine with it. And we’re not fine with wolves killing our cattle.”
WDFW in 2012 shot seven wolves in the Wedge pack, which were attacking Diamond M livestock, an event that thrust the family into the spotlight.
“We’ve never asked for the game department to remove the wolves,” Hedrick said. “Just give us the clearance to handle it ourselves.
“We’re not out to kill every single wolf or every single predator, but when you have a rising problem it needs to be addressed.”