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Editorial: a better way to manage wolf packs

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The Seattle Times

To avoid another removal, the department intends to seek more money for nonlethal methods of keeping wolves and livestock separated (fencing, range riders, etc.).

“No one wants to repeat the Wedge Pack situation,” the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reported to its commissioners not long after those wolves were shot by marksmen in helicopters.

That may have been the only thing the ranchers and wildlife advocates at that Oct. 5 meeting agreed on.

The conservationists don’t want to see another pack wiped out. The ranchers don’t want to see another pack grow dependent on livestock for food, a situation that saw 16 animals killed or injured this year on one ranch.

For the wildlife department, the killing of the Wedge Pack in the northeast corner of the state represents a setback in its plan to keep and manage a wolf population.

The department’s plan for keeping a wolf population means having 15 breeding pairs in three areas of the state for three years or 18 pairs for one year. Right now the count on wolf packs (two or more wolves traveling together, but not necessarily breeding pairs) is eight confirmed, four suspected and one — the Wedge Pack — “removed.”

To avoid another removal, the department intends to seek more money for nonlethal methods of keeping wolves and livestock separated (fencing, range riders, etc.). The department also wants to collar more wolves with radio transmitters to monitor their movements, identifying more quickly where methods to protect livestock are needed.

The department says it intends to work with federal landowners on grazing allotments, which could include moving livestock to different areas to keep them out of harm’s way.

Finally, the department is calling for earlier and quicker use of lethal methods when nonlethal means fail. This may change the behavior of these risk-averse animals so that they stay away from protected livestock. Killing some members of a pack also reduces its food requirements, which may be the only grim good to come out of the Wedge Pack situation.

“Other wolves will move into that area,” said Dave Ware, the department’s game division manager, “The Wedge Pack elimination gives us time to get it right.”

They should. The budget for wolf management is estimated at $400,000 a year. It’s time to get it right and protect this investment.

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