Wolf management officials at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are receiving death threats in light of a decision to lethally remove the Profanity Peak wolf pack.
The pack is believed to be responsible for 12 cattle depredations in six weeks. It qualifies for removal under the state's lethal take policy.
Since 2008, WDFW has used lethal force to remove wolf packs three times: the Wedge Pack in 2012, the Huckleberry Pack in 2014, and now the Profanity Peak Pack.
The take policy took a year's worth of tense negotiations among sometimes adversarial stakeholders in the Wolf Advisory Group (WAG). It includes the following terms:
- Four or more confirmed wolf depredation events within a year or six or more confirmed wolf depredation events within two consecutive years
- At least one of the confirmed wolf depredations was a kill
- Proactive deterrence measures were implemented and failed to prevent depredations
- WDFW expects depredations to continue
- WDFW has notified the public on wolf activities
Building trust among ranchers and conservationists has been a slow and painstaking process, at times with one or another stakeholder leaving the table. Officials believe that if the take protocol is not initiated in this case, there is nothing less than the future of wolf management at stake.
WDFW Wolf Policy Lead Donny Martorello believes the trust that wildlife officials have worked to build among all the stakeholders could disintegrate.
"The protocol for lethal removal was co-developed by a diverse group of stakeholders and department staff, and unanimously supported by WAG," he said. "The protocol attempts to balance a diversity of values from environmental, livestock producer, and hunter perspectives."
Some have criticized the ranchers whose cattle were involved in the depredations, claiming they have not cooperated in the past with state efforts at deterring wolves from cattle. This year, however, WDFW worked with both to incorporate efforts like cleaning up carcasses, using range riders, and waiting until calves are larger to release them.
Eventually, all of those options failed and the depredations continued.
Martorello said cattle were released to graze about 5 miles from the pack's den, but the pack had already begun migrating to rendezvous spots with the pups. The range of the wolf pack covers 350 square miles and wolves inevitably cross paths with cattle, he said, regardless of where they're released initially.
The issue over wolf management has sparked another debate over public land use, but for wildlife officials like Martorello, it should be discussed separately.
The Washington Cattleman's Association released a statement on Monday about wolf management:
"The lethal take protocol is an important component. It (lethal take protocol) helps to maintain a higher level of social tolerance amongst members of rural communities throughout Eastern Washington. Removal of problem wolves benefits the rest of Washington's wolf population that do not depredate livestock.”
Year to year, the state has witnessed a 30% growth rate across years. The first pack was documented in 2008 and there are now 19 packs. There are currently 8 successful breeding pairs across Washington. The recovery objective is 15 breeding pairs.