Two conservation groups have offered a reward of $20,000 for information that leads to a conviction in the killings in Eastern Washington.

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Conservation groups have put up $20,000 to help convict the poachers that killed two wolves in Eastern Washington.

Wolves are a state endangered species throughout Washington and also protected under the federal Endangered Species Act in the two-thirds of the state west of Highway 97.

One case involves the killing of a female wolf in Ferry County, said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Police Capt. Dan Rahn.

A breeding female, her carcass was found Dec. 5 by WDFW personnel about 15 miles southwest of Republic. Her radio collar had stopped working in early November, prompting a search for her body. A survivor of the Profanity Peak pack, in 2016 her radio collar was used by department personnel to help track the pack as the state shot and killed seven of 11 pack members to protect ranchers’ cattle.

Washington’s wolves

The state’s policy of lethal removal is under legal challenge by conservation groups who argue it is illegal.

The female eluded that action, survived the winter and most of 2017, only to be killed by a poacher. She was by then traveling on her own and not associated with any pack, Rahn said.

The second investigation stems from the discovery by hunters of a dead wolf Nov. 12, about 10 miles southeast of Colville in Stevens County. The wolf was also a breeding female and was discovered within the range of the Dirty Shirt pack, presumed to be a member of that pack.

Paula Swedeen, policy director for Conservation Northwest, which offered $10,000 toward the reward, called the illegal killings “sad and tragic.” The nonprofit has worked extensively in ranching country to build acceptance for wolves.

The group also provides assistance to ranchers who coexist with wolves, which have returned to lands ranchers use for grazing their livestock, including extensive public lands in the national forests.

“It is frustrating, but I don’t see it as a sign that we are failing,” said Swedeen, who also sits on the state Wolf Advisory Group, helping to guide wolf policy in Washington.

Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands, which contributed another $10,000 toward the reward, said the poaching did not surprise him.

“Every time we do a lawsuit, we get threats,” Cady said. “And the whole reason we are in this situation of having to restore wolves is because of human persecution of wolves.”

A top native predator in Washington, wolves were shot, poisoned and trapped to the point of extinction in Washington by the 1930s. But after reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, wolves have been making their way back into the state since 2008, so far primarily recolonizing the northeast corner of Washington.

Ranchers have borne the brunt of the wolves’ return to Washington, with more work, worry and expense. Most wolves coexist alongside cattle and sheep in Washington without incident.

But the state in various years has lethally removed some or all of the animals in five packs to protect ranchers’ livestock — including wolves in the Wedge, Profanity Peak and Sherman packs for the same producer.

Investigators of the poaching cases are looking for tips and urge anyone with information to contact the wildlife agency at 877-933-9847 or 360-902-2936.

The illegal killing of a wolf or other endangered fish or wildlife species is a gross criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.