The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports shooting one wolf in a pack that has been attacking cattle in Stevens County in the northeast corner of the state
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reported Thursday that it has killed one wolf in the Smackout pack in Stevens County and that the lethal-control operation is continuing.
WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello declined to provide more details about the culling of the pack. It’s the fourth time WDFW has used lethal removal to stop attacks on livestock since wolves begin recolonizing the state a decade ago.
Martorello said that releasing information in the past while operations were still underway has inflamed members of the public, leading to threats against wildlife managers and ranchers.
“Nothing is of higher priority than human safety,” he said.
WDFW announced July 20 that the department’s director, Jim Unsworth, had authorized culling the pack. WDFW verified the pack attacked four cattle over a 10-month period, meeting the threshold for WDFW to consider lethal removal. The department also reported stepped-up efforts to protect cattle with range-riders, strobe lights and fabric flapping in the wind.
WDFW confirmed a fifth depredation July 22. The pack injured a calf that was in a fenced 40-acre pasture that was holding 30 cow-calf pairs, according to WDFW.
WDFW policy calls for shooting one or two wolves and then pausing to see whether the pack stops attacking livestock. Martorello said the lethal-removal operation was ongoing. “We hope we can change wolf behavior,” he said.
WDFW counted eight wolves in the pack at the end of 2016. Since then, according to WDFW, the pack has produced an unknown number of wolves. One female wolf that was attacking cattle was shot and killed by a ranch employee June 30 on U.S. Forest Service land. WDFW said the shooting was lawful.
Martorello declined to say whether the wolf killed by WDFW in the past week was an adult or pup, male or female.
In previous years, WDFW has provided more details.
“An unfortunate consequence for that level of transparency is that it can be used for harassment and threats to public safety,” Martorello said.
Martorello said WDFW eventually will reveal more details, but not until a report in the fall after the grazing season. The department will provide a weekly report on the number of wolves killed, he said.
Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen said he’s concerned that WDFW’s policy will leave the public unaware of the damage wolves are inflicting on livestock producers. “I would like to see that put out,” he said.
Nevertheless, the department has reason to be concerned about the reaction to culling a pack, Nielsen said.
“You have some absolute loons who think you should never kill a wolf,” he said. “They (WDFW) need to protect whomever from some of that lunacy.”
WDFW cites a policy developed by the department’s Wolf Advisory Group for its limited release of information.
One member of the group, Defenders of Wildlife Northwest director Shawn Cantrell, has criticized WDFW for not providing more timely updates on wolves, even failing to keep its commitment to provide monthly reports.
Cantrell said WDFW has been slow to release important information about wolf recovery. WDFW, for example, didn’t report until mid-July that a wolf had been hit and killed by a vehicle in March.
“We remain frustrated,” Cantrell said Friday. “We anticipated there would be significantly more transparency.”
The lead on wolf issues for the Center for Biological Diversity, Amaroq Weiss, said the WDFW’s terse report was a “travesty.”
“The public has over and over demanded transparency from this agency, yet the deeply flawed wolf-livestock protocol adopted by the department in June requires only that the public be notified how many wolves it has killed each week,” she said in a written statement.
Washington has 15 wolfpacks clustered in northeast Washington, where conflicts between livestock and wolves have led to WDFW’s four lethal-control operations since 2012.
Nielsen said wolves will continue to attack cattle if they run short of other prey.
“The wolves are hungry,” he said. “They’re hungry and eat or cows.”
Ranchers say verified depredations are only a fraction of the cattle killed or injured by wolves, and that it has become impossible to protect herds with only non-lethal measures.