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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Killing Wolves Who Prey On Livestock Could Become More Common In Washington State

This maps shows the location of wolf packs in Washington state as of June 2016.

Over the summer, wildlife managers killed seven wolves in the Profanity Peak pack in northeast Washington. The wolves had been preying on cattle grazing on the Colville National Forest. Under Washington’s wolf management plan, the trigger for so-called “lethal action” is when a wolf pack attacks livestock four or more times in a year.

And Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Jim Unsworth expects to see more depredation as Washington’s wolf population continues to grow.

“We’re guaranteed to have more conflicts with livestock in the future and probably things could get worse,” he said. “We could be in situations in the future where we have multiple depredations occurring at one time.”

And that could mean more orders to shoot and kill wolves. Washington currently has 19 identified wolf packs. Most are still in the eastern third of the state where wolves have been delisted as an endangered species.

According to Unsworth, Washington’s wolf population is growing by about 30 percent a year and spreading into central Washington. Wolf packs have been identified in the North Cascades and as far west as the Teanaway in Kittitas County.

Washington’s Wolf Advisory Group is expected to issue a report before the end of the year on the Profanity Peak wolf pack. That pack was reduced from 12 to five by state wildlife managers who track wolf packs by radio collar and then shoot them from a helicopter. Another wolf pup is believed to have died from natural causes.

The remaining four members of the pack were spared this October when Unsworth suspended his lethal removal order after the cattle were moved off of their summer grazing allotments.

As of October, Fish and Wildlife had attributed 15 attacks on cattle in northeast Washington to the Profanity Peak pack. When the department suspended its hunt for the remaining wolves, the sheriff of Ferry County, Washington, Ray Maycumber, said he was worried about wolves preying on kids waiting for the school bus in his county.

In August, the Ferry County commission voted to authorize the sheriff to kill any remaining members of the Profanity Peak pack if the state didn’t finish the job, according to the Capital Press.

Austin Jenkins spoke with Jim Unsworth on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."