A researcher’s statements about wolves interacting with livestock that stirred up controversy were inappropriate and inaccurate, Washington State University says.
Statements by a Washington State University researcher that a rancher turned out his cattle on top of a wolf den were inappropriate and inaccurate and “contributed substantially to the growing anger and confusion about this significant wildlife management issue,” the university said in a statement Wednesday.
As state officials work to exterminate a wolf pack, the university apologized and said it disavows the statement made by the researcher, Robert Wielgus, associate professor and director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at WSU, to The Seattle Times. Wielgus “subsequently acknowledged that he had no basis in fact for making such a statement. In actuality, the livestock were released at low elevation on the east side of the Kettle Crest more than four miles from the den site and dispersed throughout the allotment,” the statement asserted.
In an interview with The Seattle Times last week, Wielgus had said, “This livestock operator elected to put his livestock directly on top of their den site; we have pictures of cows swamping it, I just want people to know.”
Another statement by Wielgus that none of the participants in his study, in which both wolves and cattle are radio-collared, experienced loss of livestock also was not true, the university stated. At least one rancher in the study had lost livestock to wolves, according to the study.
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Asked to comment Tuesday on challenges to his statements by a conservation group, Wielgus told The Seattle Times that he would have no further public comment on the subject.
The rancher he criticized, Len McIrvin of the Diamond M ranch on the Canadian Border north of Kettle Falls, did not return calls for comment.
In an Aug. 19 email to The Seattle Times, Wielgus stated: “No ranchers in wa that cooperated w us or wdfw had any losses over the last 3 years,” and, “None of the cooperators with me or wdfw has experienced any losses in 2 years. Len Mc (Irvin) has refused to cooperate with us to reduce depredations and has had 2 wolf packs killed so far. He hates wolves … and welcomes conflict … because the wolves die in his allotments.”
McIrvin and another rancher actually had been taking steps to avoid conflict with wolves on their allotments on public land in the Colville National Forest, including deploying range riders, putting out calves at higher weight, and picking up carcasses to avoid attracting predators, according to Donny Martorello, wolf-policy lead for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
But Wielgus gave a very different impression.
“After careful thought…..go ahead and quote me ‘where mcI (rvin) grazes … dead wolves follow’. He will be proud of it!,” Wielgus wrote to The Seattle Times in an email.
The controversy erupted as the WDFW was killing the Profanity Peak pack to protect McIrvin’s cattle, after he and another producer lost stock to wolf kills. It is the second time the department has killed a pack to protect McIrvin’s cattle; the first time was the Wedge Pack, in 2012.
State wildlife officials began killing the Profanity Peak wolf pack Aug. 5 by shooting from a helicopter, using traps, and pursuing wolves on the ground. Since mid-July, WDFW had confirmed that wolves had killed or injured six cattle and probably five others based on staff investigations. The state, so far, has killed six wolves in all in a pack of about 11.
“The decision to eliminate the Profanity Peak Wolf pack came after two years of careful work and scientific analysis by the Washington State Wolf Advisory Group, consisting of a collaboration between scientists, industry, and conservation partners. Washington State University subscribes to the highest standards of research integrity and will not and cannot condone statements that have the effect of compromising that integrity,” the WSU statement said.
The pack is one of 19 known wolf packs in Washington. There were about 90 wolves in Washington at the beginning of the calendar year.
The department’s “lethal removal” policy was developed this year by the WDFW in conjunction with an 18-member advisory group composed of environmentalists, livestock producers and hunters.
Robert Strenge, spokesman for WSU, said the university’s statement did not concern Wielgus’ lab, research or work. Nor was it about expressing his opinion. It was solely about the inaccuracy of the statements.
The university would be taking “internal steps” to prevent such statements in the future, Strenge said.