Six gray wolves known as the Wedge Pack were shot and killed last week after Washington State wildlife (WDFW) officials determined that termination was the only solution to keep the animals from killing cattle.

The wolves were discovered in July and are the first to come into the area since wolves were eradicated decades ago. This summer, the state killed a non-breeding female of the pack to see if that would deter them, even though at the time it was unclear whether they were killing or just scavenging carcasses that were already there. On October 2, two were slaughtered by sharpshooters after being shot from a helicopter just south of the Canadian border. A GPS collar had been placed on the alpha male in order to track the pack’s trail.

A tracker is put on the alpha wolf, who later leads his pack to its demise. (Photo: KTVB)

    A WDFW marksman killed the alpha male from a helicopter; it was the last of the six wolves killed.

    The agency said that they undertook the removal of the Wedge Pack in an effort to put a stop to its persistent attacks on livestock from the herd of the Diamond M Ranch in northern Stevens County despite non-lethal measures having been taken to control them. Since July the wolves had killed or injured at least 17 calves and cows from the herd. Some conservationists argue that the rancher who complained, Bill McIrvine, was uncooperative and could have done more to prevent predation. There is a conflicting press report that McIrvine persuaded the WDFW to eliminate the pack despite the fact that few serious efforts had been made to deter the wolves from predating the livestock.

    The chair of the Washington State Senate committee that oversees The Department of Fish and Wildlife, Kevin Ranker, issued a terse letter to the department describing its recent decision to exterminate an entire wolf pack as “a serious failure.” Ranker expressed “deep concerns” over the agencies’s management of the Wedge Pack. He pointed out that state guidelines require “non-lethal methods of wolf management” be used first, something he said did not happen.

    While the number of cattle killed is high, authorities are wondering if more could have been done to stop the wolves before making such a critical decision to end their lives. The department, however, stands by their belief that the pack had become so accustomed to eating cattle, they would not have stopped hunting the calves under practically any circumstance.

    A first wolf was killed in early August in an attempt to break the pack’s natural inclination to eat cattle. But animal activists can’t help but wonder why a more effective strategy wasn’t carried out before the wolves became habituated to such a diet.

    Grey wolf (photo: Retron)

    Several U.S. states, including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota–and now Washington, have declared war on wolves which have slowly lost their protected status in the Rockies and Great Lakes regions over the past four and a half years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared them “recovered”–a contention disputed by most conservation groups.

    State wildlife managers, eager for hunting fees to underwrite their operations, understand that the chance to legally shoot a wolf is irresistible to hard core hunters.

    In Minnesota than 23,000 hunters from 33 states have applied for the 6,000 permits to shoot gray wolves that the state will issue for its fall hunting season, set to start November 3. Wyoming has classified the estimated 350 wolves within its borders as “predatory animals” that can be shot on sight in more than 80 percent of state and has implemented a regulated trophy wolf hunt.

    Environmental, conservation and wildlife groups have filed a series of lawsuits to protect the wolf. As a result the wolves in these regions have regained and re-lost their protected status at least a half dozen times since March 2008. In the interim several hundred wolves have lost their lives while political forces worked to remove their protected status once and for all, which is pretty much where they stand today.

      Reintroducing wolves into areas that were once their natural homes then killing them off is both misguided and shortsighted.

      A comment I ran across that makes sense:

      “Relocation is the only just answer. Just because we can kill, does not mean we should. The wolf hunts are causing a decrease in wolf DNA diversity. Killing adult wolves has created new problems with the surviving adolescent wolves……not fully taught, they are not sure what their food source should be. 
Without question wolves, as apex predators, strengthen the herds by weaning out the injured, the sick, the weak, and the old. Wolves are only responsible for LESS than 1% of all livestock losses. Greedy and lazy ranchers allow their cash cows to graze on public lands (for pennies) when this is wolf territory!!! They are creating conflicts. Trophy hunters do not want to share elk or other prey animals with wolves.”

      And, I would add, they would especially like to add a bagged trophy wolf to their photo collection.