Washington wildlife managers have ended their hunt for the Profanity Peak pack, unless the surviving wolves attack more livestock, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
WDFW suspended the search for the pack’s lone surviving adult and three pups with the start of hunting season this week in Ferry County.
The department clarified Wednesday that it does not plan to come back after hunting season ends.
Investigators have not confirmed an attack on livestock since early October. With cows coming off summer grazing grounds in Ferry County, the likelihood of depredations in the near future is low, according to WDFW.
“If we see this pack continue to prey on livestock this year, we’ll go back,” WDFW policy lead Donny Martorello said in an interview Wednesday evening.
WDFW halted the operation after killing seven wolves — six adults and one pup. Another pup in the pack presumably died of natural causes, according to WDFW.
Martorello said it’s unknown whether the pack’s survivors will link up with another pack. Counting the Profanity Peak pack, there are 15 documented packs in the northeastern corner of Washington.
“There are lots of unknowns. We don’t know what will play out in the coming months,” he said.
The hunt for the Profanity Peak pack began Aug. 4 and proved to be another flash point between wolf advocates, wildlife managers and ranchers.
WDFW says the pack has attacked at least 10 cattle and probably at least five others since early July. As the attacks continued, mostly in the Colville National Forest, WDFW ramped up operations from shooting some wolves to eliminating the entire pack.
WDFW says it was following a protocol approved by an advisory group that included conservation and animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States.
Both ranchers who lost livestock to the Profanity Peak pack met state requirements to use range-riders to watch their herds and to dispose of cattle carcasses to avoid attracting wolves, according to WDFW.
One rancher delayed turning out calves to allow them to gain weight and improve their chances of surviving a wolf attack, according to WDFW.
WDFW did not kill a wolf after Sept. 29, though the lone surviving adult had been trapped in early June and fitted with an electronic collar that transmitted her location. The wolf and another in the pack were caught and released after cattle were released into the national forest and about a month before depredations began.
Martorello said that even with the collar, the wolf was hard to find. Wolves are smart and move quickly, he said. “It’s a very unpredictable environment. It’s a very rugged environment,” he said.
WDFW counted 90 wolves in Washington at the end of 2015. The population has been growing at about 30 percent a year.
Martorello said the state can expect more conflicts between wolves and livestock. “It’s a predictable component of wolf management,” he said.
WDFW conducted the hunt without the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, which had aided lethal-removal operations in 2012 and 2014.
A federal judge this year agreed with environmental groups that the federal agency couldn’t help the state without conducting a more thorough review of the environmental consequences. Wolves are not a federally protected species in the eastern one-third of Washington.
WDFW policy calls for the department to consider culling a pack after four confirmed depredations in one calendar year or six over two years. WDFW will review the policy over the winter with its Wolf Advisory Group.