By: Sarah V Schweig/The Dodo Even though the gray wolf is classified as an endangered species in Washington State, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) just signed a death sentence for members of the Smackout wolf pack because cattle ranchers are complaining.
“The purpose of this action is to change the pack’s behavior, while also meeting the state’s wolf-conservation goals,” Donny Martorello, WDFW’s lead wolf manager, said in a release. “That means incrementally removing wolves and assessing the results.”
The wolves — who are likely in the middle of raising young pups born in the late spring and early summer — will be shot from helicopters or on the ground, or caught in traps.
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Ranchers allow their cattle to graze on public lands leased from the government, and this can come into conflict with wolves, who were nearly extirpated from the region at the beginning of the 20th century because of hunting and habitat loss. Now, the state wants wolves to thrive again — except when they’re thriving a little too close to the interests of ranchers.
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Because of the Smackout pack — which consists of eight adult wolves and an unknown number of pups — has preyed or attempted to prey on cattle four times in a 10-month period, a special stipulation allows the state to start killing them. Earlier this summer, one rancher reported that he killed one of the wolves in the act of preying on one of his cattle. This was also permitted under the stipulation.
But killing wolves to protect cattle has actually been shown to have the opposite impact on the complex social structure and survival instincts of the pack, which can actually lead to increased predation on livestock. In light of this, some are truly puzzled by the state’s decision to kill wolves.
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“This latest action by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife flies in the face of science,” Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, told The Dodo. “We’ve known for years that social disruption of apex predators like wolves often has the opposite effect. By going in and aerial gunning a few wolves they will essentially be destroying this pack.”
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Washington State has over a million cattle and approximately 120 wolves, Fahy added. Last year, because of similar complaints from ranchers, Washington decided to kill the entire Profanity Peak wolf pack. Fahy pointed out that the very presence of so many cattle on public lands displaces many of the native species, like deer and elk, that wolves hunt naturally, causing conflict in the first place. Now the Smackout pack will be the next to suffer the consequences.
“The wolves have young pups and are not able to travel great distances for food,” Fahy said. “Their only choice then is to prey on livestock … To give cattle priority over the recovering wolf population is the definition of insanity.”