Washington wildlife managers say the hunt for a pack of grey wolves is over. A state marksman killed the alpha male of the pack Thursday in far northeast Washington. The department has killed a total of seven wolves from the Wedge Pack since August.
However, emotions have run strong over the decision, and debate over wolf management in the Northwest will likely remain intense.
“We know these issues spark strong feelings among Washington residents across the state, which is why we are committed to conducting our business openly and transparently,” Washington Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson said in a press release.
Wildlife managers believe the pack was responsible for killing or injuring at least 17 calves and cows in far northeastern Washington. Anderson said the pack became dependent on livestock and would continue to attack them. But he says that didn’t make the decision any easier.
“We’re in the business of protecting wildlife, not killing wildlife. And making a decision to take out a pack of animals that we’re trying to recover was very difficult for me professionally and personally to do,” he said.
WFWD video of a wolf in the Wedge portion of the Colville National Forest, west of the Columbia River, a few miles from the Canadian border taken on Jan. 29.
The state’s decision to take out an entire wolf pack is causing blowback for state wildlife managers – and for one environmental organization that supported the action.
When you dial the main number for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (360-902-2200), the very first thing you hear might give you some indication of the level of public interest in the wolf issue.
A recording says, “If you’re calling regarding the Wedge Wolf Pack, please press # or the number sign now.”
Jasmine Minbashian has also been getting feedback. The organization she works for, Conservation Northwest, reluctantly gave the state its stamp of approval to remove the livestock-hungry wolf pack. That move puts Minbashian at odds with many wolf advocates.
“I understand," she says, "I understand the anger and the questions and how people are feeling.”
Minbashian says biologists they talked to find it’s hard to stop wolf predation once a pack becomes dependent on livestock. She hopes to establish a middle ground in the wolf debate that will lead to non-lethal measures in the future.
(WFWD video of a wolf in the Wedge portion of the Colville National Forest, west of the Columbia River, a few miles from the Canadian border taken on Jan. 29.)
Who’s to blame?
Teams from the department tracked the wolves based on the location of the alpha male, which had previously been radio-collared. A marksman in the door of a low-flying helicopter shot the animals.
Anderson says they don’t know if they killed every wolf in the pack, but they took out enough to disband the group.
He says the wolf carcasses have been transported to Spokane and will likely be donated to a university for educational purposes.
(Conservation Northwest Executive Director Mitch Friedman earlier) told KING 5 that rancher Bill McIrvine, who lost part of his herd to the pack, "has total responsibility for the problem" for not being as cooperative as other ranchers with programs aimed at keeping cattle and wolves apart.
The wildlife department, for its part, "has not been as firm as it needed to be," Friedman added, especially since McIrvine's cattle graze on public land.
McIrvine, for his part, also told KING 5 that he believes groups with "a radical environmental agenda" are conspiring to introduce gray wolves in order "to take our (grazing) lease from us."
Photo causes outrage
Earlier controversy surrounding the wolf management plan in the Northwest blew up over a hunter’s photo of a wolf caught in a trap in Idaho (below).
The trapper in the photo indicated in his online post that the wolf was bleeding from bullet wounds inflicted by other hunters.
However, outrage over the photo was intense.
“Unlike a normal kind of hunting picture, this is one where the animal’s still alive and obviously trapped, and it’s been bleeding," Gary Macfarlane said at the time. He is with the environmental group Friends of the Clearwater, based in Moscow, Idaho.
"It’s sadistic, is what it is.”
Environmental groups called for legal action. But wildlife managers said they’ve investigated and Bransford was properly licensed and broke no laws.
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