The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife concluded its action to eliminate a pack of wolves in Northeast Washington Sept. 27 after an agency marksman killed the pack's alpha male just south of the Canadian border.
WDFW Director Phil Anderson said the wolf was shot that morning from a helicopter. Its death brought to six the number of wolves from the Wedge Pack removed in the past three days, including the alpha female.
"Directing the pack's removal was a very difficult decision, both personally and professionally, but it was necessary to reset the stage for sustainable wolf recovery in this region," he said. "Now we will refocus our attention on working with livestock operators and conservation groups to aggressively promote the use of non-lethal tactics to avoid wolf-livestock conflict."
With the latest operation concluded, Anderson said the department would continue to monitor wolf activity in the Wedge region as it is doing in other parts of the state. The “Smackout” pack has a range centered about 20 miles southeast of the Wedge pack’s, but to this point have not had a history of livestock interactions, Bartlett said.
The department initiated removal of the Wedge Pack late last week in an effort to put a stop to its persistent attacks on livestock from the herd of the Diamond M Ranch in northern Stevens County. Since July, the wolves had killed or injured at least 17 calves and cows from the herd.
No other wolves were seen in the immediate vicinity when the alpha male of the pack, which was equipped with a radio collar so that its movements could be tracked, was killed, according to the WDFW’s Craig Bartlett. The WDFW originally estimated that the pack contained between 8-12 members. A total of eight are known to have died since August.
“We don’t know for sure,” but it is believed the cattle-killing pack has been eliminated, Bartlett said.
The pack takes its name from the triangular shape of the Washington state portion of its range, which is bordered by the Columbia and Kettle rivers and Canada. Its elimination leaves the state with seven confirmed wolf packs and four suspected packs, most of which range in the remote, rugged forests of Northeast Washington.
WDFW began to lethally remove wolves from the pack in early August, as its pattern of predation began to escalate despite non-lethal efforts by the rancher and the department to prevent the attacks. A WDFW marksman killed a non-breeding member of the pack on August 7, and about two weeks later, biologists found the decomposed carcass of a young wolf within the Diamond M herd's grazing area. The young wolf had not been shot, and the cause of death could not be determined.
Teams of WDFW staff remained in the Wedge through August, trapping extensively and tracking the movements of the alpha male.
However, Anderson said none of the rancher's or the department's efforts to change the pack's behavior succeeded, and attacks on the Diamond M herd increased through mid-September.
"Ultimately, it became clear that this pack was preying on livestock as its primary food source, and that our actions had not changed that pattern," Anderson said. "The independent wolf experts we consulted agreed with our staff that removal of the pack was the only viable option."
With the support of key conservation and livestock organizations, the department announced on Sept. 21 it would remove the pack to create the opportunity for wolves that are not habituated to preying on livestock to re-colonize the region.
Anderson said he looked forward to continuing to work with interested groups on a broad range of non-lethal management strategies under the terms of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan approved by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission in December 2011.
WDFW is urging livestock operators to enter into cooperative, cost-sharing agreements with the department that specify non-lethal measures they will use to minimize wolf-livestock conflict.
"Lethal removal will remain a wolf management option, but we will use it only as a last resort, after all reasonable non-lethal options are exhausted," Anderson said.
He said he respects the opinions of the many citizens who contacted the department to share their support for or opposition to its actions.
"We know these issues spark strong feelings among Washington residents across the state, which is why we are committed to conducting our business openly and transparently," he said.
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