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Washington Wildlife Officials Continue Lethal Pursuit of Wolves

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
File photo of a gray wolf

In the past month, wildlife officials have shot six wolves from a helicopter in the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington state. That’s likely to come up during a two-day work session for members of the state’s Wolf Advisory Group that begins Wednesday.

The meeting was already on the calendar, and while a full review of the state’s lethal removal protocol won’t happen until January, Washington’s Wolf Policy Lead, Donny Martorello said Wolf Advisory Group members will likely “flag items for a larger review.”

“It was very much meant to be an adaptive process,” Martorello said. “They wanted to commit to it for a single year and have that opportunity for ‘lessons learned’ and if needed, to have discussions and make tweaks or improvements to the protocol.”

Under a new protocol this year the state authorized extermination of the Profanity Peak wolf pack last month. Martorello said the goal is to stop wolves from killing livestock.

“It’s not a death sentence for every wolf,” he said. “We may take the entire pack, but we reassess and look at the conditions every week.”

Profanity Peak wolves are blamed for 13 dead cattle this summer. Martarello said at least two adult wolves and an unknown number of pups remain.

“Removing the two adults that are known to be in the pack and leaving the pups would not be a humane path for us and we wouldn’t go down that road,” he said.

Earlier this month, the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center (LARC) in California offered to take in the remaining wolves and keep them in permanent captivity. Martarello said after a lengthy discussion, he does not believe that is a feasible option.

“It’s incredible difficult to catch wolves and to use a helicopter to dart wolves -- wolves are so fast and so wily and we can’t do that without deep snow,” he said. “It can be done, but the risk of death or injury to the animal is just magnified. You’re in a helicopter travelling at whatever speed and then you have to place a dart on that one piece of rump on the back end that’s running as fast as it can and if you misplace that dart, you’re subjecting that animal to injury or death.”

Martarello said wildlife officials in Washington state routinely dart animals from a helicopter, but it’s not done outside of the winter season. Martorello also said LARC does not have the accreditations the Department of Fish and Wildlife requires in order to permanently house wild animals.

The Profanity Peak wolf pack ranges on the Colville National Forest, where ranchers make use of federal grazing allotments in the summer. As fall sets in, grazing permits will expire. With fewer cattle on the range, Martorello anticipates a decline in the inevitable conflict between predator and prey.