In an all to familiar deja vu, another wolf pack in Washington state is targeted for extermination due to livestock depredation. Four years ago it was the Wedge pack–six of them killed by Washington Dept. Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the rest got away. Now, the decision has been made to eliminate the entire Profanity Peak pack , consisting of eleven wolves. Two or more have been killed already, including the breeding female. WDFW is not sharing much information on their progress. According to Donny Martorello, wolf policy lead for the department, “We are kindly asking for a little space and understanding so we can maintain the highest level of safety for the public, the staff and our producers.”
In both cases, cattle were on their summer range in heavily forested public lands, making it difficult to protect them against natural predators. And in both cases, at least most of the cattle were owned by the Diamond M ranch. About a month ago the Stevens County Cattleman’s Association requested that WDFW lethally remove the Profanity Peak pack. The president of this organization happens to be Justin Hedrick, co-owner of the Diamond M ranch. WDFW responded to Hedrick and on August 5, 2016, two female wolves were shot in the Coleville National Forest. When two more calves were killed by wolves last week, the plan shifted to removing the entire pack. Apparently, groups that one might expect would protest this lethal removal have thrown in the towel and publicly agreed with the actions of WDFW. This includes Conservation Northwest and Defenders of Wildlife.
But other conservationists disagree. Amaroq Weiss of Center for Biological Diversity said in their press release on August 24, 2016, “We can’t keep placing wolves in harm’s way by repeatedly dumping livestock onto public lands with indefensible terrain, then killing the wolves when conflicts arise. These allotments should be retired by the U.S. Forest Service — or livestock losses should simply be expected, and wolves shouldn’t have to pay for it with their lives.” In the same release, Tim Coleman, executive director for Kettle Range Conservation Group, is quoted as saying, “We believe the wildest areas of our national forests should be a place where wolves can roam free.”
Other issues are contestable as well. For one, killing wolves, especially by helicopter, is not cheap. Removal of the Wedge pack in 2012 cost Washington over $77,000. With eleven wolves in the currently targeted pack the expense could be much higher. Also, there are only about 90 wolves in Washington according to WDFW’s April 2016 report. While the elimination of one pack will not likely send the population into a decline, it is a 12% reduction, a rather larger percentage for what is still considered an endangered species in the state.
Killing off packs of wolves is not what the majority of us feel is the best solution. WDFW knows this, yet our voices are ignored. I found this quote in an article about the Wedge pack removal: “Future department actions to remove an entire pack are likely to be extremely rare if they occur at all, said Madonna Luers, a Fish and Wildlife department spokeswoman in Spokane. “Our director (Phil Anderson) has said that he never wants to do this again,” Luers said. “… The social acceptance is just not there.”
A pattern seems to setting in northeastern Washington, one that is not conducive to ranchers, conservations, cows and certainly not wolves. Cattle are roaming, primarily unprotected in rugged country on public grazing allotments. Wolves are hungry. Deer and elk may be sparse so livestock becomes the target. It seems a major shift needs to occur or wolf packs will be exterminated routinely, and this only after significant livestock loss. Coming from Iowa, I realize that those who work the land and raise critters on it have a lot of forces to deal with; flood, drought, the take over of corporate farms, and an unreliable market. I saw some Iowa farmers close up shop. But others made major changes to keep going. They diversified, rather than putting all their eggs in one basket. They tried contour farming in order to hold onto the rich topsoil, most of which had been lost by old farming practices. In the decades I lived there I witnessed tremendous change in that industry. The farmers seemed to know that some things were simply not in their control and that no one was going to bail them out. Perhaps this should hold true for cattle ranchers as well.