Washington Fish and Wildlife will cull one or two wolves from the OPT pack in the Colville National Forest, the department announced Wednesday, restarting a lethal-removal operation that was suspended in November.
Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind ordered the operation to resume as early as 5 p.m. Wednesday after department investigators determined July 6 the pack had killed another cow.
“This is a very difficult situation for all those involved, especially given the history of wolf-livestock conflict in this area,” Susewind said in a written statement. “Our goal is to change this pack’s behavior.”
The department has culled wolves in the Kettle River range in northeast Washington the previous three years, including two in the OPT pack last September. The pack’s surviving members have continued to prey on cattle.
Environmental groups have complained about the repeated cullings. By issuing the order at 8 a.m. on July 10, Fish and Wildlife met its commitment to give environmental groups one day to seek a restraining order in court.
The Center for Biological Diversity, which has challenged lethal-removal orders in the past, probably wouldn’t go to court to stop this one, staff attorney Sophia Ressler said at mid-day Wednesday.
“This is just not the correct time and set of facts for us to do that,” she said.
Ressler said the center remains concerned that the department isn’t doing enough to stop the annual conflicts between cattle and wolves in the area. “It doesn’t solve anybody’s problem,” she said.
“This is very difficult for a diversity of our Washington communities, whether it is producers, environmentalists, department staff or anywhere in between,” Fish and Wildlife wolf policy lead Donny Martorello said in an interview. “We’re using the guidance of our plan and protocol.”
Ranching representatives note that the department has never entirely eliminated a pack that has become accustomed to preying on cattle.
The pack currently has five adults and at least four pups, according to the department.
The pack has killed seven and injured 13 cattle since Sept. 5, according to the department.
The ranch whose cattle are being attacked, the Diamond M, puts the losses much higher. In some cases, cattle are never found and in others too little remain of the carcass to confirm that wolves were responsible.
In a statement Wednesday that resembles a court brief, Fish and Wildlife presented its rationale for the lethal-removal operation and steps the department, rancher and U.S. Forest Service have taken to protect cattle.
The steps include using lights around salt blocks and water troughs to keep away wolves. The ranch waited 15 days until June 15 to release calves onto the grazing allotment to give them time to grow bigger and less vulnerable. The department has employed its own range rider around the herd and coordinated patrols with the ranch and a Ferry County sheriff’s deputy.
Even with those and other measures, Fish and Wildlife said it expects the pack to continue attacking cattle.
Susewind ordered “incremental removal.” Typically, the department will kill one or two wolves and pause to see whether the pack stops preying on livestock.
The lethal removal of wolves in the OPT pack should not harm the statewide recovery of wolves, according to the department. The state’s wolf population has grown and expanded each year, even though the department has documented 12 to 14 deaths annually.