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Dead But Still In The News — Wedge Wolves

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By Andy Walgamott
Northwest Sportsman

The question about how much the operation cost will be addressed this Friday afternoon when the Fish & Wildlife Commission -- which signed off last December on the wolf management plan after four years' work on it by stakeholders and state staff -- will get a comprehensive briefing on all things Washington wolf.

Their results in northern Stevens County appear to have won grudging respect from some ranchers, but now state wolf managers are getting Monday Morning Quarterbacked on last week's elimination of a cattle-preying wolf pack.

Yesterday there was the sharp jab from Seattle Times columnist Ron Judd:

"The Washington state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Aerial Sorties spent much of last week — and God knows how much public money — paying helicopter sharpshooters to exterminate most of the Wedge Pack wolves in Northeast Washington."

And before that, State Senator Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) called the agency a "failure" for not exhausting nonlethal tricks to keep the Wedge wolves out of the Diamond M Ranch's cattle, reports KING 5 in a story that "went national" when it was picked up by MSNBC.

Saying he's "disappointed," Ranker ominously warned in a letter, "I can tell you, however, as the chair of the committee with oversight over the Department of Fish & Wildlife, this story is far from over."

He's head of Natural Resources and Marine Waters. Two years ago his committee held hearings on and passed a bill merging WDFW with State Parks; it ultimately did not pass.

Noting that wildlife managers in Montana have killed 74 wolves this year alone for livestock depredations, Rich Landers at the Spokane Spokesman-Review blogs that his comments are "shrill."

And Dave Workman snarkily adds, "Ranker’s letter also mentioned 'relocation options' that hadn’t been tried. Perhaps he would be happier if wildlife managers live-trapped the Wedge pack and relocated it to Orcas Island," where the senator lives.

That, of course, was never and is no longer an option with last week's killing of the six wolves, including both alphas. The pack is blamed for 17 injured or killed calves and a cow this summer, not exactly model wolf citizens to be shared or trumpeted, though national advocacy groups are howling mad over their eradication and Washington is now drawing the ire of Facebook pages like "Don't Fund the Wolf Massacre States."

The question about how much the operation cost will be addressed this Friday afternoon when the Fish & Wildlife Commission -- which signed off last December on the wolf management plan after four years' work on it by stakeholders and state staff -- will get a comprehensive briefing on all things Washington wolf.

Meanwhile, a rancher in Kittitas County who has the Teanaway wolves amongst his cattle, was one of the first to sign onto an agreement with WDFW to use nonlethal methods to prevent conflicts between the species.

Scott Sandsberry at the Yakima Herald-Republic reports:

The first cattleman to sign? Sam Kayser.

"I’d like not to be a bitcher and not be a part of the situation," he said. "Anybody can bitch and whine.

"I’m not a real fan of Fish and Wildlife, but I think they’ve made a concerted effort on their part to work with cattlemen," he added, referencing both the Wedge Pack action and the agreements.

"Actions speak louder than words. (State wildlife officials) have done both. They’ve given us the words and they’re backing it up with actions."

Sandsberry's column also obliquely addresses concerns in Northeast Washington that what happened in the Wedge is bound to happen with the other six confirmed and two unconfirmed packs there, and is all the more reason to regionally delist wolves from state endangered status.

Interestingly, the state’s seven other confirmed packs (and another four suspected packs) — even those in close proximity to grazers — have apparently not yet developed the Wedge’s appetite for livestock.

"Diamond is near livestock, the Smackout Pack is right on top of livestock and Salmo is near livestock, and nothing," said Wildlife Department spokeswoman Madonna Luers, referring to three northeast Washington packs.

"People jump to the conclusion that all this activity with the Wedge, ‘Oh my God, that’s what all wolves do.’ No, that’s what these wolves do."

Steve Pozzanghera, the department’s wolf policy lead, says wolf research in other states indicates a sort of all-or-nothing pack-wide behavior when it comes to viewing livestock as a prey base.

Wyoming has 21 confirmed packs with an active breeding pair, Pozzanghera said, and only three have taken to targeting livestock.

"Eighteen of those 21 packs," he said, "have not had livestock predation patterns."

And finally, bringing this back around to Washington, WDFW's Facebook post announcing it had killed off the GPS-collared male last Friday morning is up to a probable record of 774 comments.

That's roughly twice as many as any previous thread on the agency's page -- and all those were wolves too.

The rancor will only continue this Friday -- wolf advocates are organizing rides to Olympia and the commission meeting while Stevens County Cattlemen are petitioning the citizen oversight panel to delist wolves there.

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