Wolf policy expert defends pack killing

Ranchers, lawmakers, and conservationists are returning from a tour of the Profanity Peak wolf pack's home range on Tuesday. The tour comes on the heels of a decision to kill the entire pack after 12 cattle attacks.

It's an action that has prompted death threats against state officials and ranchers.

“We’re working with the local sheriff’s office. We’re talking about safety. We’re trying to work in teams of two. We’ve sent out messages to our staff to be diligent and safe,” said State Wolf Policy Lead Donny Martorello.

Martorello defended WDFW’s decision to kill the entire Profanity Peak pack. After killing a few of the pack’s members, attacks on cattle continued. The pack qualified for the state’s lethal take protocol, a rule that’s taken a year of negotiation among often adversarial groups.

“That’s why it took so long,” said Washington Cattleman’s Association Executive VP Jack Field. “When you look at 18 different groups and individuals around the table trying to find the best path forward.”

Field sat beside ranchers, conservationists, wolf advocates and many others to decide when the state should remove a wolf pack.

“Now that we are at a point we are, there is a high level of trust and we can have very difficult conversations about tough topics,” Field said.

That trust, he said, is what’s at stake with the Profanity pack. It’s trust that faced a shaking with comments made by a WSU carnivore expert in a Seattle Times article. Dr. Robert Wielgus claimed the cattle were dropped off at the wolf pack’s den and that attacks could’ve been avoided.

Wednesday, WSU released an apology for those statements calling some of the claims “inaccurate and inappropriate,” contributing to “growing anger and confusion.”

Martorello countered Wielgus’ comments, reporting that the cattle were released four miles from the den site. The pack’s home range covers 350-square miles. It’s inevitable, he said, that they will cross paths.

“It wasn’t really this situation where a livestock producer backed up the truck and unloaded several calf-cow pairs on top of a den site. In today’s environment with tensions so high, those details are really important,” Martorello said.

Washington's wolves have seen a 30 percent growth rate across years, with the first pack confirmed in 2008. There are now 19 packs. The recovery objective is 15 breeding pairs across the state.

Since 2008, the state has lethally removed wolf packs three times: the Wedge pack in 2012, the Huckleberry pack in 2014, and now the Profanity Peak pack.

Moving the pack is not an option due to trapping and other relocation challenges. There’s also another reason Martorello believes removing the pack is necessary.

“Is that really the wolf population we want to repopulate the state? Wolves that have demonstrated that behavior and see livestock as prey items,” he said.

According to Martorello, the ranchers involved were using several methods of non-lethal deterrents but all eventually failed. Field has also noticed a shift in attitude toward wolves among ranchers, noting that many are now choosing to work with conservationists and the state on non-lethal methods of wolf management.

“I think all the organizations and individuals at the table have pushed their chips to the middle on this one, and we’re all in,” Field said.

All in – and watching if the state will finish what it started.

“So, now we’re at that stage where we want to live up to that expectation,” Martorello said.

For Martorello and many others involved in the Profanity Peak pack’s fate, nothing less than the future of wolf management is at stake.

 “I do see progress but it’s slow,” he said. “It takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Copyright 2016 KING


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