An environmental group is sticking up for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, saying the decision to try to kill one or two wolves in the Togo pack serves the long-term interest of wolf recovery.
Conservation Northwest said it reviewed efforts to prevent the pack from attacking cattle in the Kettle River Range in northeast Washington. The group was convinced Fish and Wildlife followed guidance from the department’s Wolf Advisory Group.
Conservation Northwest policy director Paula Swedeen helped shape the guidance, which calls for resorting to lethal control under certain circumstances, in part to maintain the cooperation of ranchers, who are being pressed to alter their operations to avoid conflicts with wolves.
“We came away with the impression that this is how the protocol is supposed to work,” Swedeen said. “If we don’t stand by our word in this situation, our word isn’t any good.”
Conservation Northwest’s supportive statement contrasted with denunciations by other environmental groups. The Center for Biological Diversity called culling the pack a tragedy to appease livestock owners.
Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind issued the order Aug. 26 after the pack had attacked three calves in the previous 30 days, crossing the threshold for the department to consider lethal removal.
The pack has five adults and four pups, according to Fish and Wildlife. The department hopes that by killing one or two wolves, the rest of the pack will stop attacking cattle. The department has not yet reported removing any wolves.
This is the fifth time in the past four years Susewind has authorized killing Togo pack wolves. The department has removed one wolf.
Because of past conflicts, Swedeen and other wolf advocates on the department’s advisory board pushed Fish and Wildlife to focus on preventing wolf-livestock conflicts in the Kettle River Range.
Range riders hired by Fish and Wildlife, the Cattle Producers of Washington and Northeast Washington Wolf-Cattle Collaborative have been patrolling the Togo pack territory this summer.
“They did what we wanted them to do regarding the range-riding effort,” Swedeen said. “My understanding is the coordination was really good.”
Fish and Wildlife worked with ranchers before the grazing season on deterring attacks, the department’s wolf policy lead, Julia Smith, said in a statement.
The Togo pack has attacked calves belonging to three different ranches. None of the calves belonged to the Diamond M, the region’s largest and best-known ranch.
All three producers who have had calves attacked employed range riders and other non-lethal measures, Fish and Wildlife said.
“Those communities and WDFW staff have worked diligently to protect their livestock and meet expectations,” Smith said. “August and September are typically months in which wolf-livestock conflict peaks, so this is not unexpected.”
Fish and Wildlife’s lethal-control protocol may be discarded by next grazing season. At the behest of the Center for Biological Diversity, Gov. Jay Inslee last year ordered the department to write a lethal-control rule to replace the guidance developed by the Wolf Advisory Group.
Inslee said that the chances that wolves will be removed under the department’s current protocol are “unacceptably high.”
Fish and Wildlife says it expects to propose a rule in January.