Wolves began recolonizing Washington about a decade ago, and this is the third time the department has removed some of them.

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Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff on Aug. 5 killed two adult female wolves from the Profanity Peak pack in Northeast Washington by shooting them from a helicopter.

Wolves began recolonizing Washington about a decade ago, and this is the third time the department has removed some of them.  The department director Jim Unsworth approved the killings earlier this month, after wolves were linked to cattle deaths.

Department officials say that non-lethal methods to prevent the livestock deaths had not staunched the wolf attacks.

In a Thursday email, Donny Martorello, the department’s wolf-policy lead, said the two wolves killed included this year’s breeding female.

He wrote that the female’s pups are weaned, so her death is not expected to impact their survival.

“We were not targeting the breeding pair in this pack, but as we discussed, there is no way to identify the breeding animals during a removal operation, so there is always a chance a breeding animal may be killed,” Martorello wrote in the email.

The aerial killings drew protests from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Amaroq Weiss, a West Coast organizer for the group, said that killing a breeding female could possibly cause the pack to split and spur additional conflicts.

“This wolf-killing operation is unfolding in a really disturbing way,” Weiss said in a statement released Thursday evening.

Martorello said the wolf-removal effort is ongoing, and that another update of the operation will be provided no later than Aug. 18.

Currently, there are 19 wolf packs in Eastern Washington.

Profanity Peak pack has at least 11 wolves in its pack.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.