Editor’s note: A previous version of this blog incorrectly stated that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife asked the U.S. Forest Service to withdraw the grazing permit, but the federal agency rebuffed the request.
Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife last week authorized the killing of up to all 11 members of the Profanity Peak wolf pack in eastern Washington, not far from the Idaho border. It’s a tragic and maddening development that reinforces the need for continued HSUS involvement in discussions surrounding human-wolf conflicts in the area.
The state permitted the killing of the wolves because some members of the pack killed cattle set out to graze in a national forest. In fact, wildlife researcher Rob Wielgus noted that the cattle had congregated around the den site of the wolves, creating something of an irresistible predation opportunity for the carnivores.
This lethal control action was a bit of a departure for Washington, which has had the strongest state-based management plan to minimize wolf-human conflicts and to resolve those conflicts by non-lethal means. At the center of this management plan is a multi-stakeholder body known as the Wolf Advisory Group (WAG). The HSUS participates as a stakeholder, given our intense interest in protecting wolves and humanely resolving conflicts between the animals and ranchers and other resource users.
It was in 2015 that the Washington legislature and the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife developed the WAG as a tool to bridge the gap between wolf advocates and wolf opponents, after years of seeing dozens of anti-wolf bills brought up for consideration by rural lawmakers. The goal was to facilitate some discussion among different players in the debate and to find some areas of agreement.
With the assistance of a mediator, The HSUS and 17 other stakeholder groups and individuals ranging from hunters to cattle producers to conservationists have worked for two years to develop progressive and proactive wolf management guidelines.
There’s no public hunting or trapping of wolves in Washington, and last year, not a single wolf was killed in the state for livestock protection reasons. In comparison, 54 Idaho wolves were killed by agents and landowners and 39 were killed in Montana for livestock losses. (Additionally, trophy hunters and trappers killed another 461 wolves in Idaho and Montana in 2015.) Wolves in Washington have generally been spared this kind of multi-pronged assault.
While lethal removal for livestock protection is used in many places wolves live – but not where wolves remain listed as “endangered”, and with severe limits in states where wolves are otherwise federally protected under the Endangered Species Act – Washington is the only state that requires the utilization of nonlethal practices, such as employing range riders to separate wolves from cattle. Unlike in Idaho, for instance, where a single complaint can result in the slaughter of an entire pack, in Washington, four separate livestock loss events must occur and nonlethal methods must be utilized first before wolves can be killed by authorities.
Of the state’s 19 packs, only the Profanity Peak pack has been in conflict this year. Livestock producers in other areas have dramatically increased their use of non-lethal deterrents and range riders, and most importantly, wolf poaching has significantly decreased. Last year, Washington reported no illegal kills of wolves, while Oregon reported four, Montana reported eight, and Idaho reported 14 wolves killed by poachers.
For Washington-based wolves, the killing of the Profanity Peak wolf pack has been the worst-case scenario. It has deeply saddened us, as these wolves did what comes naturally to them when someone placed cattle right in the center of their range. The HSUS is asking that the protocol that allows full pack removal be reexamined, and we are urging that the idea of killing an entire pack be taken off the table entirely.
It would be easy for us to withdraw from the WAG and leave this process to the other parties, but we feel strongly that our voice needs to stay a part of this discussion. If we leave, we will see outcomes that result in more wolf killing. We believe it’s important to continue the dialogue and continue advocating for the wolves. We also believe in sitting down with adversaries and with people who see the world differently from us, and working to sort through challenges. Indeed, that’s the very point of our work – to push people to exhibit a newfound focus on the well-being of animals.
While we always prefer dialogue to confrontation, we won’t stand aside when wolves are menaced by special interests. The HSUS is second to no group in effectively advocating for wolf protection. We led the effort to shut down wolf hunting and trapping in the Great Lakes region – halting the killing of more than 500 wolves a year. We launched two Michigan anti-wolf-hunting referendums, demonstrating for the first time ever that a majority of people in a state with a substantial wolf population opposes trophy hunting and commercial trapping of the animals. We faced down the NRA and the Safari Club and beat them head-on. We joined with a number of groups to shut down trophy hunting and trapping of wolves in Wyoming through the courts, and we worked with the Obama Administration to adopt two rules earlier this year to restrict the killing of wolves and other predators on 95 million acres of national wildlife refuges and national preserves in Alaska. We are working year-round in Congress to block riders that would subvert the federal court rulings and administrative rulemaking actions we’ve been able to secure.
We are trying to get ahead of intense conflicts in Washington state, which may have as many as 160 wolves in a growing population that is expanding its footprint into areas with plenty of human activity. At this stage, passing stronger wolf protection measures in the legislature is impossible, conducting a ballot measure is impractical, and appealing to the courts is a non-starter. We have a single option, and that’s to work with the key stakeholders to seek extra-legislative and extra-judicial outcomes that will protect the wolves as best as we can.