A year-end report and a review under way this winter and spring could bring changes in wolf recovery policy before the next grazing season.
The year 2016 was a tough year to be a wolf or a rancher in northeastern Washington, a new report from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife recounts.
In its annual report on wolf-management activities released this week, the department reported on its management of the Profanity Peak wolf pack, which typically roams parts of northern Ferry County.
According to the report, 10 cattle were confirmed killed or injured by wolf attacks from July to early October. The state said another five cattle were probably killed or injured by wolves.
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Source: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
In response state wildlife managers killed seven members of the Profanity Peak pack, after nonlethal deterrence measures were unsuccessful in preventing further livestock depredations.
The seven wolves were shot from helicopters. The state pursued other wolves on foot and with traps. Four animals, an adult female and three cubs, evaded the state’s efforts to eliminate the entire pack by the time the grazing season came to an end. The department suspended its kill operation on Oct. 19.
It was the third time since 2008 the state has moved to take out wolves preying on cattle or sheep in the northeast part of the state. During earlier efforts, seven wolves were killed in the Wedge pack in 2012, and a breeding female in the Huckleberry Pack was shot in the summer of 2014.
The 2016 report contains grisly photographs of cattle bitten by wolves. There are no photos in the report of the wolves killed by the state. One of the wolves lived three days after initially being shot from a helicopter before it was finally located and killed.
Two other wolves also died in 2016. One was hit by a car in Stevens County and another was hunted legally on the Colville Indian Reservation, according to the report.
Wolf advocates were dismayed that Washington state spent more than $134,000 last year to kill wolves, which are still listed by the state as an endangered species.
Wolves are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act — but only west of state Highway 97, not east of it.
In all, 16 of the 19 confirmed wolf packs in Washington are bunched up in the northeastern corner of the state, where they have been the source of conflict with cattlemen grazing their livestock on remote public lands in the Okanogan National Forest.
Native to Washington, wolves were shot, poisoned and trapped as pests to the point of local extinction by the early 1900s. Today, the wolf population is growing at an estimated 30 percent per year.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, which guides the department, and the Wolf Advisory Group will this winter and spring assess current policy and steps for the coming grazing season.
“It was a very challenging year, a difficult year,” said Donny Martorello, who heads wolf policy for the department.
“We want to improve those nonlethal deterrences and develop tools that are sustainable and feasible. Are there improvements that can be made, adjustments going into the next year? This is always going to be a work in progress.”
Wolf advocates say the department fell short last year and that steps taken by ranchers and the department to prevent wolf predation were too little, too late.
“We’re troubled by what this report reveals and deeply saddened,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The killing of wolves in the Profanity Peak pack clearly highlights that the department’s protocol does not do enough to ensure nonlethal measures are exhausted before the state moves to kill wolves,” said Weiss. She also noted that the killings were done at taxpayer expense.
Others were more optimistic.
Jack Field, outgoing executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said more producers are signing up for agreements with the department, which provides cash assistance and help to ranchers managing cattle and wolves on their land.
“It’s important to remember where we are right now. We are in the infancy in recovery with regard to conflict and challenge, and there is going to be more,” Field said.
“The lesson learned from 2016 is this is a long process, and obviously we need to have tolerance for wolves. They are here. It’s a different time, and a different mindset and we need to come up with solutions that maintain the viability of the rancher, and the viability of the wolves.”
Information in this article, originally published Jan. 13, 2017, was corrected Jan. 15, 2017. A previous version of this story gave incorrect information about the location of Highway 97.