Commentary: Wolves at the gate
This is news: Washington state officials have announced plans to kill a pack of at least eight gray wolves that have been attacking livestock in the state's northeast corner.
In and of itself, that announcement isn’t newsworthy. For years, ever since both state and federal agencies began working to re-establish wolves in mountainous areas of the West, it has been necessary to “thin out the packs,” whether due to encroachment into populated areas or because they learn to prey on grazing livestock.
Equally unsurprising, the move will anger some conservation groups and deal a short-term setback to wolf recovery efforts, according to a special report in The Herald newspaper. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials argued that the hunt was necessary to ensure long-term, sustainable, wolf recovery in the state.
State officials said two teams were in the field this week to try to kill members of the Wedge Pack, which ranges over a remote area of Stevens County in the northeast corner of the state. They said that professional marksmen would hunt the wolves from the ground. If that’s unsuccessful, they would resort to the use of helicopters, Phil Anderson, Department of Fish and Wildlife director, said in a statement.
The pack is believed to have killed or injured at least 15 cattle from the Diamond M herd that grazes in a large area of rangeland near the Canadian border, according to the statement. Those attacks have become increasingly more frequent this summer, even after the agency killed a member of the pack in August.
Controlling bad behavior
It’s easy to take sides in the debate over wolf re-introduction and recovery efforts. Considered a threat to both humans and livestock, wolves have been hunted, trapped and poisoned for the first century that settlers poured into the Northwest. By the 1930s, gray wolves were eliminated in Washington but in the last two decades, they’ve migrated back into to Washington from Idaho, Oregon and British Columbia. They are listed as endangered throughout Washington under state law and the western two-thirds of the state under federal law.
According to wildlife biologists, wolves in that area usually favor elk, although deer and moose are more important food sources in some areas. Despite their speed, power and endurance and the fact that they tend to prey on younger, older, and debilitated animals—leaving herds with more animals of prime age and in good health—most wolf hunts are actually unsuccessful.