The Capitol Record

Large turnout at public hearing over killing of Wedge Pack wolves

About 100 people attended today’s public hearing about the state’s decision to kill a pack of wolves in Northeast Washington.

An official with the state Department of Fish & Wildlife opened the meeting by saying that agency members have received death threats over the issue — and warned there were uniformed and undercover police officers in the crowd who are “prepared to take action” if needed.

Department staff first updated the commission on the wolf management program. They said gray wolves are returning naturally to Washington state, primarily from Canada and Oregon. The first known pack of nine wolves appeared in 2008. Today, they are tracking eight confirmed wolf packs across the state, and four more suspected packs.

They said the department tries to use non-lethal methods to deter the wolves from livestock with a program called “Ranger Riders.” It includes measures like herding the livestock together at night, removing any sick or dead animals, using electric fences or “biofences” — a perimeter drawn with wolf urine to scare away rival wolves.

Last month, the state used helicopter sharpshooters to kill six Wedge Pack wolves in Northeast Washington. The state said the move was necessary because the wolves have attacked or killed more than a dozen cattle from the Diamond M Ranch in Stevens County, near the Canadian border.

Commisioner David Jennings said the decision to kill the wolves wasn’t made lightly. “It was a painful decision, but the right decision by the time we had such a large focus on livestock from that pack,” he said. “Wolves are coming back rapidly. So bear with us as we learn to do it better.”

A rancher who has lived in the Wedge area for 42 years testified in favor of the killing. He said his wife was distraught at after finding out the cattle she “loved and herded” were in danger. He said the wolf population needs to be kept under control, and at a minimum. “Who’s number one? Is the wolf number one in decision-making or is it humans?” he asked.

Richard Cowell, a navy veteran who said he grew up on a cattle ranch in Colorado, testified next. He said the rancher who lost his livestock was grazing his cattle on public land, and the state should have tried to relocate the wolves before destroying them.

“Instead, they allowed wolves to feed like on a buffet,” Cowell said. “The Wedge Pack wolves are gone. They are a family, just like we are. Now their DNA is gone.”

Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, said the crisis could have been avoided if the rancher had adjusted his practices and the state had taken action earlier.

“Sloppy ranching should have been felt by rancher, not the wolves,” Friedman said.

You can watch TVW’s webcast of the staff briefing here, and the public comments here.

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