Siding With Ranchers, Washington State Kills Another Wolf Pack

(CN) — Washington state wildlife managers wiped out an entire pack of wolves that roamed near the Canadian border in the remote Colville National Forest, after ranchers claimed the wolves killed cattle grazing on both private and public land.

State officials said Monday they had killed the last two known members of the Wedge wolf pack, after investigations showed the wolves had taken part in 16 livestock attacks on animals belonging to three different ranchers. Officials said the wolves killed four animals since May and injured 19.

One of the ranchers involved was Len McIrvin, owner of the Diamond M Ranch, according to the Capital Press.

“It’s a blood bath,” McIrvin told the Capital Press. “I don’t know if we’re going to have any cattle left when we’re done with this.”

McIrvin, who leases federal land to graze his cattle, has long criticized nonlethal methods of discouraging wolves from preying on livestock. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has killed more wolves based on complaints from Diamond M Ranch than from any other livestock producer, including the entire Old Profanity Pack last summer.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee asked the department to kill fewer wolves, after last year’s contentious and litigation-filled grazing season ended with the state having killed nine wolves based on complaints over livestock predation.

The most recent count, conducted at the end of 2019, showed a minimum of 108 wolves in Washington state, up from 97 in 2018.

In July, near the beginning of this year’s summer grazing season, Kelly Susewind, director of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, wrote to Inslee saying the agency aimed to improve what it sees as the best non-lethal method to prevent wolves from eating livestock — range riding.

Range riders accompany cattle on horseback as they graze, deterring wolf predation via human presence.  Prosecutors are currently investigating the case of two range riders accused of taking a shopping trip to Spokane, Wash. when they were supposed to be deep in the Kettle Range, paid to ride alongside cattle owned by McIrwin’s Diamond M Ranch.

While they were gone, wolves from the Old Profanity Pack attacked the cattle the pair was supposed to be guarding, according to court documents in a lawsuit where environmentalists challenged the state’s wolf kill program. After that, the state wildlife agency killed every member of the wolf pack. Prosecutors haven’t said yet whether they will file charges against the couple involved.

Just increasing range riding is not enough to prevent wolves from killing livestock grazing in a national forest, according to Sophia Ressler, Washington state wildlife advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. Ressler said her group wants rules requiring better documentation of non-lethal measures that can be enforced before the department is allowed to consider killing wolves.

“We want assurance that non-lethal measures were done properly and were actually the correct preventative measure for the situation,” Ressler told Courthouse News.

The department wants to launch a series of new non-lethal methods of deterring livestock predation, department spokeswoman Staci Lehman said over the phone. Ideas include putting bells on cows, hanging strings of red flags that Lehman said might frighten wolves when they flutter in the wind, and putting equipment near cattle herds that can detect wolves wearing radio collars and emit loud noises to scare them away. But those ideas haven’t yet been fully implemented, Lehman said, because funding is limited and because some supplies are restricted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The department does reimburse ranchers who lose cattle to wolves, but ranchers like McIrwin say the program doesn’t pay enough. On grazing sites over 100 acres, where surveying for wolf kills would be too difficult, the government pays ranchers the full current market value for two animals for every animal confirmed to have been killed by a wolf. And on smaller grazing sites where surveys are more practical, the government will pay the full market value for every animal confirmed to be killed by wolves. 

“Some take advantage of it, and some don’t,” Lehman said. “It’s a lot of paperwork, so some don’t want to spend the time doing it.”

Officials are also trying to kill one or two wolves in the Leadpoint pack after officials said they had killed livestock on private grazing land in Stevens County. And the department tried and failed several times to kill a wolf from the Togo pack this summer. Lehman said that wolf kill order is no longer active, since the Togo pack hasn’t been found to have killed any livestock in over two months. She said the pack may have moved after state-sponsored hunters tried to shoot its members from low-flying helicopters.

“Sometimes the act of trying to kill a wolf will change their behavior,” Lehman said.

Ressler said it was “ludicrous” for the department to rely on lethal methods of managing livestock conflict.

“The nonstop killing of wolves in Washington has to end now,” Ressler said. “These wolves shouldn’t be gunned down just for trying to feed their families.”

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