A judge has ordered the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to stop culling a wolfpack in the northeastern part of the state.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s incremental approach to thinning a wolfpack in the Kettle River Range leads to a cycle of conflict between wolves and livestock, a cattlemen’s group said Monday.

By not removing the entire pack, Fish and Wildlife allows cattle-killing wolves to regroup, reproduce and renew attacks, according to the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association.

“This ‘incremental’ approach has not worked from the beginning and is still a failed policy,” the association’s president, Scott Nielsen, said.

Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind on July 10 ordered the incremental removal of wolves after the OPT pack killed a cow in the Colville National Forest. The department did not say how many wolves it planned to kill, but incremental removal in the past has meant shooting a wolf or two and pausing to see the effect on the rest of the pack.

The department shot two wolves in the pack last year. When depredations continued, Fish and Wildlife planned to kill the pack’s two known survivors. The department suspended the operation after a fruitless two-week search in November. Most of the cows were off the federal grazing allotment by then.

The department now says the pack has five adults and at least four pups.

By suspending the operation last fall, Fish and Wildlife left conditions for conflicts to continue this year, said Stevens County Commissioner Don Dashiell, a member of the department’s Wolf Advisory Group.

“They should have kept after it,” he said. “Just because most of the cattle were gone, there was no reason to quit.”

Fish and Wildlife has not provided an update on the current operation.

The department also killed wolves in the area in 2016 and 2017. At the insistence of conservation groups, the department pledged this year to seek “creative alternatives ... to break the cycle of lethal removal of wolves.”

In this case, the department says non-lethal measures have failed and that it expects attacks on livestock to continue unless some wolves are removed.

The response from environmental groups has been fairly muted. The Center for Biological Diversity did not seek a restraining order to block Fish and Wildlife from shooting wolves, as it has in the past.

Conservation Northwest policy director Paula Swedeen said in a statement that the Kettle River Range was “important grazing lands for local livestock producers, many of whom have been working and stewarding these lands for generations.”

“The history of conflict here shows it won’t be easy, but we want to see successful coexistence in the Kettles into the future. We are anxious to participate in community-wide discussions of all interested parties on how to end this cycle of loss,” said Swedeen, who’s on the Wolf Advisory Group.

The OPT pack, also referred to as the Old Profanity Territory pack, has killed at least seven and injured at least 13 cattle since Sept. 5, according to Fish and Wildlife.

Defenders of Wildlife Northwest Director Quinn Read criticized the resumption of lethal removal.

{p class=”p1”}”Wolves are subjected to a vicious cycle in which they are attracted to the region’s rich wildlife habitat, encounter cattle on problematic grazing allotments and are killed for the resulting conflicts,” she said in a statement.

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