Why Some Conservationists Approve the Killing of a Wolf Pack

Washington state is set to eliminate an entire group of endangered gray wolves linked to livestock deaths.
(Photo: Universal Education/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Aug 24, 2016· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

The state of Washington wants to eliminate an entire pack of gray wolves because they have killed at least six cattle, a move that is opposed by some, but not all, conservation groups.

On Friday, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife authorized the extermination of the remaining nine members of the Profanity Peak wolf pack after the killing of two wolves failed to halt depredation of cattle grazing on federal land in the northeastern corner of the state.

Five cows were found dead or injured in Ferry County on Aug. 3, prompting the department to authorize the shooting of two female wolves in the Colville National Forest on Aug. 5. No cow deaths or injuries were reported over the next two weeks.

But on Friday, two dead calves and an injured calf were discovered in the grazing area, so the department ordered the killing of the entire pack.

“We said we would restart this operation if there was another wolf attack, and now we have three,” Donny Martorello, the department’s wolf policy lead, said in a statement. “The department is committed to wolf recovery, but we also have a shared responsibility to protect livestock from repeated depredation by wolves.”

Neither Matorello nor other department officials responded to requests for comment.

The Profanity Peak group is one of 19 known wolf packs in Washington. Earlier this summer, state officials said the pack had at least 11 members, including six adults and five pups.

Gray wolves are listed as endangered in 44 states under the federal Endangered Species Act. In Washington, only wolves in the western two-thirds of the state are listed as endangered, and the Profanity Peak pack lives in the eastern third.

Under state law, however, wolves throughout Washington are listed as endangered, meaning it is illegal to kill them.

But last May, the Fish and Wildlife Department’s Wolf Advisory Group, comprising state officials, cattle ranchers, hunters, and conservationists, devised a new protocol allowing for the “removal” of wolves if cattle depredations reach a certain threshold.

Among the conservation groups approving the protocol was Defenders of Wildlife.

“We have met and significantly exceeded that threshold,” said Shawn Cantrell, northwest director of Defenders of Wildlife. “This is for us very sad and disappointing because we really hate to see any cows or any animals killed, [but] we do support the department moving forward at this time,” he said.

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Another group that approved the protocol, Conservation Northwest, echoed Cantrell’s sentiments in a statement on its website.

“Though it’s tremendously difficult to see wolves killed, we understand and accept this action as a necessary component of coexistence where people, wolves and livestock share territory,” the group said.

Killing wolves is meant to be a last resort, after other alternatives—including guard dogs, human “range riders,” and the removal of cattle carcasses that attract wolves—have failed.

Relocating the animals is possible, but it would be difficult to corral them and the wolves might end up in other areas where cattle graze, or where they would compete for territory with other packs, Cantrell said.

Other groups oppose the killing, including the Kettle Range Conservation Group, a member of the state’s Wolf Advisory Group.

“They did this knowing that the wolves were there, and by allowing cattle to migrate right into that zone, that there was going to be a problem,” said Tim Coleman, director of the Kettle Range Conservation Group. “They never should have put cows there in the first place, but they should have gotten them out of there as soon as they knew there was a problem.”

Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity, which was not part of the advisory group, said the protocol “does not distinguish between cattle losses that occur on public versus private land.”

“These occurred on public land managed by the Forest Service that they manage for all of us,” Weiss said. “These are the public’s endangered wolves, and we simply should not be killing the public’s wildlife on public land in order to benefit private parties who are conducting for-profit business.”

She said that killing wolves can cost thousands of dollars per animal, while relocating cattle to non-wolf habitat would be much more cost-effective.

Weiss noted that two of the living wolves have tracking collars, paid for by taxpayers.

“There’s something very grotesque about this,” she said. “These are what are known as Judas collars because the wolves betray their families. They lead the killers back to where their family members are.

“The collars were paid for at public expense to help recover the species,” Weiss said, “and now they’re being used as a bull’s-eye to kill them.”