Washington: Ok to kill wolf pack
Washington state officials okay the killing of a portion of a wolf pack in northeast Washington, but pro-wolf groups say the state has not exhausted nonlethal methods.
This past weekend, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife sent hunters aboard a helicopter to take aim at the Huckleberry Pack, named for the nearby Huckleberry Mountains. The pack, which numbers up to 12 wolves, has reportedly killed 22 sheep pastured by Dave Dashiell of the town of Hunters, located about 50 miles northwest of Spokane.
The attacks came in spite of diligent efforts made by Dashiell. He reportedly implemented 24-hour protection of crews and the use of four guard dogs. Dashiell says that one of the dogs has two large bites in one of his hind legs that could potentially have been from fighting off the wolves during an attack.
To break the predation cycle, the agency is trying to target four wolves from the Huckleberry pack. Unofficial sources say they will be trying to target the younger wolves to reduce the pressure on the pack to feed more mouths, hoping that the pack will return to preying on wild game. Wildlife officials also add that the situation will be re-evaluated on a daily basis in order to determine whether more or less than four wolves will be killed.
Wolves began moving back into Washington in the early 21st century from Idaho and Canada. They are currently protected under both state and federal law. In 2012, the state exterminated an entire pack of wolves to protect a herd of cattle in mountainous Stevens County.
The Huckleberry pack is about one of a dozen wolf packs in eastern Washington. This pack has not been associated with any attacks on livestock until this month, officials said.
Regardless, officials maintain that the situation warrants lethal removal of wolves.
“Unfortunately, lethal action is clearly warranted in this case,” said Nate Pamplin, the agency’s wildlife program director, on Monday. “Before we considered reducing the size of the pack, our staff and Mr. Dashiell used a wide range of preventive measures to keep the wolves from preying on the pack.”
Conservation groups, on the other hand, argue that the state did not exhaust non-lethal methods before authorizing the hunt. Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity believes that the hunt proves the state prefers to kill the wolves.
“The department has never been interested in making sure sufficient non-lethal conflict measures are in place,” Weiss said. “They have wanted to gun for these wolves from the start.”
Weiss says that the state could have used other options like rubber bullets or paintball rounds to harass the wolves. The sheep could have also been relocated.
“It’s unconscionable that a public agency would take action to kill an endangered species without notifying the public. These wolves belong to the public and decisions about whether they live or die ought to be made in the clear light of day,” said Weiss.
Conservationists are also concerned that lethal removal will severely impact the pack’s dynamics. The pack has pups, and if adults are killed, the young wolves may perish from lack of food.
Wolves were driven to extinction in Washington in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored program that was ordered on behalf of the livestock industry. The total wolf population has grown to at least 52 today.