The state Department of Fish and Wildlife failed to protect a pack of gray wolves in northeast Washington, less than a year after adopting a statewide wolf conservation management plan.
By killing the entire pack, just one of 12 in the state, the department is admitting it failed to effectively implement the nonlethal measures required by the wolf plan and is bending to the pressure of large cattle ranchers.
Wolves are considered an endangered species under Washington state law, and by federal law for the western two-thirds of the state. Wolves are just starting to make a comeback after being effectively eliminated by hunters in the 1930s.
The state’s wolf plan is designed to recover wolf populations to the point that they can be taken off the endangered species list, while keeping losses to grazing livestock at tolerable levels.
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But something is wrong when a rancher, who is well-known for favoring the elimination of troublesome wolves, and who has refused to cooperate with nonlethal provisions of the plan, can pressure the department into abandoning it so quickly.
By doing so, Fish and Wildlife personnel may find themselves in trouble with lawmakers.
Sen. Kevin Ranker, D–Orcas Island, who chairs the Senate committee that oversees the DFW, said, “I find it inexcusable that we allowed ourselves to get to a place where killing the entire pack was the necessary decision when other nonlethal options – within the department and with ranchers – were not totally exhausted first.”
Diane Gallegos, executive director of Wolfhaven International, located in Thurston County, says wiping out the Wedge Pack, named for the wilderness area near the Canadian border where they roamed, represents a failure on everyone’s part.
She’s calling for the state to add enforceable standards and accountability to the wolf plan before lethal force is used again.
And she makes the excellent suggestion of adding a stakeholders review board to ensure the department and ranchers are implementing the plan before allowing future wolf kills.
It is in the best interests of conservationist for ranchers to be successful, so bringing wolf advocates, hunters, ranchers and fish and wildlife together could produce collaborative solutions.
Killing off wolves for just doing what wolves do is no solution if ranchers aren’t managing their livestock properly, according to the wolf plan, and if Fish and Wildlife officials aren’t accountable for enforcing the deployment of all non-lethal options.
Ranker is right to ask what steps the department took before shooting the wolves, some from helicopters, what the kill cost and how they are going to avoid getting forced into another similar situation.
As Wolfhaven’s Gallegos says, “The problem is with people, not the wolves.”