Wolves should be taken off the state’s endangered-species list to open the door to more wolf kills to protect livestock, ranchers say — even as wolf advocates are considering a citizen initiative to better protect them.
Once again, the state has killed a wolf to protect livestock, this time a wolf in the Smackout Pack.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will continue its so-called “lethal removal” of wolves in the pack this coming week, with the goal of deterring the pack from killing and injuring cattle. There is at this time no goal to remove the whole pack, or any set number of wolves.
The department would provide no other details about the kill, including the age or gender of the animal, a state-endangered species, or how, when, or where it was killed.
The only new information provided by WDFW on the kill in its prescribed written weekly update — its only communication with the public — was: “the department removed one wolf.”
The department will be providing no more information until a final report at an unspecified time, said Donny Martorello, wolf-policy lead for the department.
“This is a stressful time, those kinds of details create a lot of anxiety and we are trying to create a level of calmness,” Martorello said, citing concerns for public safety. “We need to keep the temperature down.”
Instead, the department’s secrecy immediately turned up the heat. “It’s outrageous that the department issued a five-word report about this very serious issue,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Cost wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “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. That’s not transparency, that’s a travesty.”
The kill operation has dismayed wolf advocates and ranchers alike. Ranchers say one wolf is hardly enough.
A merciful bullet: that is all rancher Len McIrvin says he wants and needs.
In a passionate letter to the editor sent this week to every newspaper in the state, and posted on the Facebook page of the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, McIrvin, 74, and a director of the Diamond M, one of the state’s largest ranching operations, said his grandson used a bullet this week to kill a suffering calf that had been horribly maimed by a wolf.
McIrvin grazes his white-faced Hereford cattle on allotments in the Colville National Forest and, like other cattle ranchers in Stevens County, is struggling against losses to wolves. The predators have been returning to the state since 2008 — almost exclusively in northeastern Washington, home now to the majority of the state’s 20 packs.
It hurt him to see the mother cow standing over the injured calf she would not leave, McIrvin said. Far more of his cattle are killed by wolves than the state documents, he said: “We are losing 100 head a year, the last four or five years.”
It’s not only the money — his ranch, on principle, won’t take state compensation for losses to wolves — it’s also the animals bunched up in fear in corners with no forage left, or water. It’s becoming impossible to keep cows on prescribed grazing rotations because of wolf harassment, McIrvin said.
The Diamond M has tried nonlethal deterrents to keep wolves away, McIrvin said, including so-called range riders, but it isn’t working. “We call them cattle coroners; all they can help you do is find the dead ones.”
Wolves are a not a new problem for McIrvin and his cattle — or the state, which shot the Wedge Pack in 2012 and the Profanity Peak pack last summer to defend Diamond M cattle. Before the summer is out, WDFW may target a third, the Sherman Pack, which has this year been killing and injuring McIrvin’s cows.
“We have three confirmed kills already with Sherman and we’ve lost 30 head this year,” McIrvin said. “It’s a terrible situation. These wolves are habituated, they have no fear, they kill what they want to kill.”
Frustrated with the state’s wolf management in Washington, McIrvin, with six generations of his family in the ranching business, said it is time to turn the situation over to local sheriffs in his corner of the state.
“We need wolves to stop eating our cows,” said Scott Nielsen, president of the Cattle Producers of Washington, an industry nonprofit. “We have packs we are not having any problems with, and those ones are fine. But when we have a problem pack, they need to act quicker,” he said of the department.
“I’m not saying kill all the wolves, but they have been at it for a week, and that is not good enough.” The cattle producers issued a news release calling for delisting of wolves from the state endangered-species list.
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“Once they are delisted, we can take care of our own problems and save the taxpayers a whole bunch of money,” Nielsen said.
Steve McLaughlin, a former Republican candidate for state commissioner of public lands, said he is researching legislation for the 2018 session to delist the wolf, and revisit the state’s wolf-management plan.
“It might mean more strict measures, as much as doing kills, or relocating packs,” McLaughlin said.
Members of the Wolf Advisory Group, appointed by the department of Fish and Wildlife to help shape wolf policy, already have made it easier for the state to take out wolves more quickly this season than last.
Some conservationists are pushing back against the state’s kill policy and say delisting is out of the question. Hank Seipp, director of Western Wildlife Conservation, based in Spokane, said he is considering a citizen initiative that would block killing of wolves by the state to protect cattle unless a wolf was caught in the act, and would ban hunting of wolves for at least 10 years.
“Our voice is not being heard. It’s getting worse,” Seipp said of the violence against wolves. “We can’t continue down this road.”
The vast majority of packs don’t kill livestock in Washington, where fire, accidents, disease and other mishaps are by far the leading cause of death for cattle, noted Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, which holds a seat on the Wolf Advisory Board.
To be sure, Friedman said, the state’s target on the Smackout Pack — for years an example of successful coexistence with cattle — and the resurgence of trouble with wolves and the Diamond M are bad news. “And it’s not even August.”
“But we have a lot of wolves that are still behaving themselves. Let’s keep doing what we are doing.”
But even on the Wolf Advisory Group, some say it’s time for a change.
The problem isn’t wolves, but putting cattle on public lands too rugged and remote to defend from a top predator now back where it belongs, said Tim Coleman, executive director of the Kettle Range Conservation Group in Republic, Ferry County, and a member of the advisory group.
“This is going to keep happening,” he said of wolves killing cattle. “It is inhumane and unjustified to put livestock on top of important predators and expect the predators not to take a bite out of them.”