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WA: Pack removal rekindles wolf debate in Washington

Don Jenkins
Capital Press

ISSAQUAH, Wash. — Washington wildlife managers have yet to end an operation to remove the Profanity Peak pack, but a debate about how the state will react to future wolf attacks on livestock has already started.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wolf Advisory Group convened Wednesday at a Holiday Inn for a meeting scheduled before WDFW began shooting wolves in the Colville National Forest.

The group didn’t discuss the operation, but many in the audience of about 50 people brought it up.

The meeting was occasionally heated as wolf advocates said the state shouldn’t shoot wolves on public land to protect cattle, a position described by others as contributing to rural discontent over wolves recolonizing northeast Washington.

Meeting moderator Francine Madden and WDFW staff members defused tensions by repeatedly thanking people for their opinions and interest. “I love your passion,” WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello told everyone.

WDFW has been hunting the Profanity Peak pack since Aug. 4, enacting a policy agreed to by the Wolf Advisory Group.

The group includes environmental and animal-welfare groups. They accepted a policy that allows for wolves to be shot if preventive measures don’t stop depredations.

The response from environmental groups not involved in writing the policy was relatively muted when WDFW said it would remove part of the pack.

The atmosphere changed when WDFW announced Aug. 19 that shooting two wolves had failed to stop depredations and that the department intended to kill the entire pack. Environmental groups, including some on the advisory group, say WDFW should reconsider the lethal-removal policy.

On the ground, ranchers and WDFW staff members have received death threats. “It’s been a really hard nine weeks,” Martorello said. “All the prep didn’t prepare us emotionally for what we’ve been through.”

WDFW has so far shot six wolves. Two adult wolves and perhaps four pups remain in the pack. WDFW has not provided an update on the operation since Sept. 2. Martorello said the department will release one Friday.

WDFW also has promised a post-operation report, including details on where cattle were released, efforts to prevent depredations and the reasoning behind WDFW Director Jim Unsworth’s decision to authorize total pack removal.

Following its policy, WDFW waited until four confirmed depredations on livestock before shooting wolves. The confirmed depredation count has reached eight.

In an almost equal number of cases, WDFW investigators have concluded that wolves probably attacked livestock, but they couldn’t absolutely rule out another predator.

Stevens County Commissioner Don Dashiell, a member of the advisory group, said that earlier intervention might have made removing the entire pack unnecessary.

“By the time you get to four confirmed depredations, there’s been a lot more killing going on,” he said. “To do incremental take, you need to start with the first depredation.”

Group member Paula Swedeen of Conservation Northwest noted that in some cases stepping up non-lethal protections has stopped depredations, but she agreed the group should discuss earlier intervention.

“It’s an open question that warrants serious consideration,” she said. “We need to take a hard look at the science and dive in deeply for the next protocol.”

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