The decision to kill all eight members of a newly designated Washington State wolf pack has raised issues about the future of the state's wolf recovery plan.
Washington State Fish and Wildlife officials say they have regrettably decided they must destroy the pack and start over.
The so-called 'Wedge Pack' has become too dependent on livestock, explained WDF&W Assistant Wildlife Director Nate Pamplin.
He noted that just this week two calves belonging to the Diamond M Ranch in northern Stevens County were confirmed wolf kills. He said that makes a total of 17 dead or injured animals.
Experts say once a pack becomes dependent on livestock for food it is nearly impossible to force them to change that habit.
"Once wolves become habituated to livestock as their primary food source, all of the wolf experts we've talked to agree that we have no alternative but to remove the entire pack," Fish & Wildlife Director Phil Anderson said. "By doing that, we will preserve the opportunity for the recovery of gray wolves in balance with viable livestock operations."
Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest, a group responsible for confirming the presence of wolves in several areas of the state, agrees the pack should be destroyed. But Friedman is demanding assurances be made that this won't become the preferred method of wolf management in the state.
He blames the owner of the Diamond M, Bill McIrvine, for not doing enough to protect his herd from wolves. He points out McIrvine did not participate in a range riding program that several other ranchers invested in, and he believes since McIrvine is running his cattle on publicly owned national forest land, he should have to adopt other modern methods of herd protection.
McIrvine said in an interview with KING 5 in July that he believes radical environmental groups are conspiring to introduce wolves in order to force ranchers off public lands. Not only will he be allowed to keep grazing his cattle on leased national forest land, but state sharpshooters will spend as long as it takes to kill the wolf pack.
Gray wolves were eliminated as a breeding species in Washington by the 1930s, but they have since migrated to Washington from Idaho, Oregon and British Columbia. They are listed as endangered throughout Washington under state law and the western two-thirds of the state under federal law.
A wolf management plan approved late last year requires 15 successful breeding pairs for three consecutive years to remove endangered species protections. Four breeding pairs would be required in Eastern Washington, the North Cascades and the South Cascades or Northwest coast, as well as three other pairs anywhere in the state.
There are currently eight confirmed wolf packs in the state -- five of them in the state's northeast corner. Four other packs are suspected but not yet confirmed.
Two groups that participated in the development of the wolf management plan supported the decision Friday.
Cattlemen must work with the state to find solutions that include nonlethal measures to minimize their losses, said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association. They also are being encouraged to enter into cooperative agreements with the state for managing conflicts between livestock and wolves.
Those could include "caught in the act" kill permits to allow ranchers to kill wolves to protect their livestock. The department also offers compensation to ranchers for livestock killed by wolves.
Friedman said that he understands and agrees that pack removal is the right action at this time, despite his difficulty accepting the decision. But he also said he hopes the department and ranchers will work together to avoid a repeat of this situation.
"There has to be a commitment on the part of all sides to allow wolves to occupy the landscape while protecting the rancher's livelihood and maintain their ability to raise cattle," he said.
The Wedge Pack's official discovery was documented in July by KING 5's Gary Chittim.