TUMWATER, Wash. — Fragile support for killing wolves to protect livestock may collapse if the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife culls a pack in Ferry County for a fourth straight year, conservation and animal-welfare representatives warn.
Dan Paul, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said Thursday that repeatedly shooting wolves in the same area threatens the department’s efforts to persuade wolf advocates to accept lethal removal as a last resort.
“It’s the single biggest issue we hear from our members,” he said. “It’s a wound that won’t heal.”
The wolves roam the Kettle River Range in northeast Washington and attack cattle in the Colville National Forest. Packs there have broken up and reformed under different names.
Fish and Wildlife killed seven wolves there in 2016, one in 2017 and two in 2018. The pack, currently known as OPT, has at least four adults, according to the department, and has a record that could trigger lethal removal if attacks resume.
The producer losing cattle to the wolves, Len McIrvin of the Diamond M Ranch, said April 25 the pack killed about 30 calves and a half dozen cows last year. Every time Fish and Wildlife has removed wolves, it’s left some to continue preying on cattle, he said. “The department has never done a thorough job.”
The prospect of more wolf-cattle conflict on the Forest Service grazing allotment dominated a meeting April 25 of the department’s Wolf Advisory Group. The group includes Paul and other wolf advocates, as well as representatives of the livestock industry.
Fish and Wildlife has used the group to reconcile viewpoints about wolves. Environmental and animal-rights representatives on the panel have supported lethal removal, and say they’ve been hammered by their members for it.
Conservation Northwest policy director Paula Swedeen sought assurances from wildlife managers they would press ranchers in conflict-prone areas to try new ways of protecting cattle.
Swedeen said she wasn’t advocating taking cattle off public lands or dictating tactics, but she did want the department to make clear ranchers were expected to be innovative.
Fish and Wildlife employees, led by department wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello, left the meeting for a half hour and stood in a hotel parking lot and tossed around ideas for cooling off the hot spot.
Returning to the meeting, the department staff talked about more closely directing range-riders hired by the state and nonprofit groups to watch herds.
Martorello suggested responding more quickly to depredations with lethal removal to reduce the overall loss of wolves and cattle. Environmental and animal-welfare representatives pushed back against that suggestion.
Fish and Wildlife did not rule out killing wolves in places where livestock are attacked year after year.
“We’re not going to be able to write a recipe to make this go away,” Martorello said.
Last summer, environmental groups sought a restraining order barring Fish and Wildlife from killing wolves. The department said Diamond M had adjusted its operations to guard against wolves. Wolves moved onto the allotment after the cattle were turned loose, the department said.
McIrvin said the ranch has to use the allotment for feed, or sell the cattle.
“There’s nothing different we can do,” he said. “There were absolutely no non-lethals for those wolves once they started killing.”