As State exterminates Wolf pack, Pros, Cons of Wolf Reintroduction brought Center Stage

This is the latest column from North Bend resident and pet trainer at Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs, Melissa Grant. When a suspected wolf was spotted in Snoqualmie, and a confirmed wolf was found dead after being hit by a car just east of North Bend last year, the topic of wolves making their way to western Washington first came up.  Now it seems one of the cons of the state’s wolf repopulation has come center stage. Read on….

Recently you may have heard the news that the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife had decided to exterminate the “Profanity Peak” wolf Pack in Northeastern Washington due to live stock depredation.

From King 5 News:

“The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced it will kill the entire Profanity Peak wolf pack in Ferry County after more cattle were found either killed or injured.

The pack, which contains 11 wolves, is being removed in rugged, federal graze land between Republic and Kettle Falls.

After five cows were found dead or injured on August 3, the director of WDFW authorized a partial pack removal. At that point, two female wolves were killed, and the cow deaths appeared to stop. There appeared to be a disturbance in wolf activity and operations paused, according to Donny Martorello, Wolf Policy Lead for WDFW….

But on August 19, more cows were found dead or injured, and the director authorized a full pack removal.”

For some this is terribly sad news, for others good news. The topic of wolf conservation and management is not one without controversy. This particular pack seemed to have switched from feeding on wild ungulates (deer and elk) to cattle and many believe the removal of this family was necessary. Still others see depredation as a necessary side effect of restoring the wild wolf population.

You can see the chain of events that led the authorities to make this decision here, but what are the pros and cons to reintroducing wolves to our wild public lands?

The pros of wolf reintroduction

  • It can help bring back balance to ecosystems- When wolf populations decline, elk and deer population rise dramatically. While good for hunters, large populations of wild ungulates eat up much vegetation and local forests are stripped bare. When natural predators are present, overpopulation is kept in check and forests are healthier for all other animals
  • They boost ecotourism- The National Parks that have reintroduced wolves have seen an increase in visitors which boosts local economies. These funds can be used to protect forests and help save another endangered species.
  • Wolves increase biodiversity- Wolves provide food for scavengers and influence the way coyotes behave. Wolf kills feed many mouths increasing populations of eagles, vultures and ravens. If there are more trees, there are more beavers and more beavers mean more song birds.

The cons of wolf reintroduction

  • Wolves are known to kill livestock- As we have seen in the Profanity Peak wolf pack livestock can be a tempting target for wolves. When they get started killing farm animals it nearly impossible to dissuade them from such easy pickings.
  • It can harm livelihoods- While ranchers are to be compensated for herd losses from reintroduction programs it can be costly and time-consuming to prove such losses. Wolf kills are notoriously hard to prove. Hunters too are against these programs fearing the deer and elk population will be divided.
  • Waste of taxpayers’ money- Opponents of wolf programs say that these plans can cost between 200,000 to 1 million hard-earned tax payer dollars and that the money should be used elsewhere.

This controversy is not likely to end anytime soon and the debate will rage on as long as these programs exist.

Last year when a suspected wolf was spotted by a trail camera in Snoqualmie’s Indian Hill area and Snoqualmie Cattle Company posted the photo on social media, it sparked a huge online debate.

What do you think? Should this wolf pack have been killed? How do you feel about these wolves coming back to our state?

Looking forward to hearing your opinions. Woof!

Trail cam photo of suspected black wolf taken in the Indian Hill area of Snoqualmie.

Trail cam photo of suspected black wolf taken in the Indian Hill area of Snoqualmie.

Comments

  1. I don’t have nearly enough information to form any kind of opinion. I think asking people their opinion based on the lack of real information above is troubling. How many wolf packs are in the state? Where are they? Do none of the other packs ever take livestock? Is there no other way to protect cattle than to eliminate all predators? A google search on protecting cattle from livestock seemed to pull up a lot of results. How have other ranchers forced to deal with wolves dealt with it? I would have to do a lot of research before I could answer what I think about any of it.

    • I did find this:
      “Washington to Kill 11 of State’s 90 Endangered Gray Wolves for Preying on Cows. Cows that are free ranged on public land, and the ranchers receive reimbursement for losses. These same ranchers caused the elimination of the Wedge Pack 4 years ago, at taxpayer expense. WDFW eliminated the entire Wedge Pack by sharp shooters from helicopters at the expense of taxpayers.”

  2. Jack Kennedy says:

    Melissa this is a great and timely article. First, wolves definitely belong in WA and it’s great to have them back. In addition to what you already mentioned wolves (and Cougar, coyotes, etc.) also improve the health of herds by eliminating weak and sick animals, that overall improves the health of the heard in generations to come. They are beautiful animals and deserve to be here. Washington, even more so than, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming, isn’t the same today as it was when wolves first disappeared. The urban areas have greatly expanded, agriculture has expanded, population has expanded. We are now in much closer contact with all species of animals and we need to actively participate in their lives to make sure they are all successfully re-established. I think we can agree that our cities are not going to get smaller, and our population is going to continue to grow. Just like elk, deer, bear, coyotes, the new antelope herds, and cougar populations all have to be monitored and managed, so will a prolific and beautiful predator like our wolves. This means several things such as making sure we protect and grow our state, federal and other public lands so that these animals have places to live and don’t unnecessarily cause friction with humans. If we allow wolves to cause too much friction with humans, landowners, ranchers, etc. people will stop trusting in our ability protect their interests and take matters into their own hands, which would bring us back to square one. The wolf populations would be devastated again. Our management plan as it is now set’s a target for sustainable populations of wolves in the state. Once we hit that target, it’s only natural to de-list wolves and manage their population with tools that include hunting. Hunters play very essential roles for wildlife population management and conservation. Wolf populations grow exceedingly quickly. Left unchecked the wolf/human wolf/livestock interactions will reach a tipping point. Proper monitoring of the populations and application of hunting seasons and limits (along with other management strategies) is a key tool for managing the health of our wild species today. Wolves are certainly no exception once they reach the target population density for our state. Our management plan needs to carefully monitored and modified as needed, as we are now, to make sure we strike the proper balance given the conditions in our state today. I’m extremely happy to see them back. They such amazing animals. I’m confident that we’ll be able to strike a balance between people and wolves in WA, once the plan is fully active. It’s going to take some time though to get up to speed. I’m glad you started this discussion.

  3. I am major proponent that wolf reintroduction for many reasons and levels. It restores the not only the biodiversity of surrounding ecosystems, it also has a impact on improving the health surrounding natural areas (great read: http://www.yellowstonepark.com/wolf-reintroduction-changes-ecosystem/). I also think that ranchers are blaming wolves unfairly for loss of cows they are already reimbursed for. It’s a cost of doing business especially when they are leasing public land for little or low cost. Cattle is very hard on the land and tend to disrupt the entire ecology of the surrounding area. I also have issue that ranchers are not willing to at least try mitigation steps to reduce the mortality rate of their cattle. I don’t think 6 calves warrant the destruction of an entire pack. I think that ranchers should have to take steps mitigate their losses before the state resorts to full blown destruction of a pack. I think it’s wrong. I am not anti hunting but shooting the animals from a helicopter just seems very unsporting. While agree there has to be a balanced and rational approach to wolf reintroduction and management, but it should be also require the ranchers leasing public land to be more realistic. I did daily trail runs around Rattlesnake Mountain for the 13 years I lived in the valley. I have seen and avoided negative encounters with just about every kind of animal (bears, elk, cougar, coyotes). I enjoy seeing the majesty of these animals. I live near Squak Mountain now and just this morning a pair of young coyotes joined me and my dog on our run. Yes, I have to watch the interactions but one can enjoy the majesty too. I would like to see more tolerance in the discussions about managing wolves from all sides. As Jack says, these majestic animals deserve to live too.

  4. Jack Kennedy says:

    It’s been asked a couple times so I’ll fill this in from the WA Wolf Conservation Management Plan: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/mgmt_plan.html
    The plan calls for a minimum of 15 breeding pairs of wolves in the state for 3 consecutive years to reach a sustainable number. That is not the same as 15 packs. Packs are 2 or more wolves traveling together. Usually this is around 2-10 wolves. You can have a pack without having a breeding pair among them. The plan calls for 4 breeding pairs in Eastern WA, 4 in the North Cascades, 4 in the Southern Cascades, and 3 additional pairs anywhere else in the state. Once this number has been met and sustained for 3 consecutive years, they will have reached a number that WDFW feels is sustainable. Then they will de-list them as protected and manage the numbers with strategies that they use for other animals in the state so as to reach a balance protecting the wolf numbers and the interests of people, ranchers, municipalities, etc. Currently when ranchers sustain losses the state works with them to deploy non-lethal methods like fences, range riders and fox lights and others to deter wolves from depredating livestock. Often that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Once they become habituated to meals of fresh calves on a ranch or grazing land, it may reach a point that more significant protections become necessary. Including destroying a pack altogether. Other things have to be considered as well, such as the protection of other species like deer, elk, goats, etc. The west is no longer as wild as it once was. Due to development and roads we’ve confined herds into relative islands of safety bordered by humans. A quickly growing apex predator like the grey wolf could quickly reach numbers that decimate other populations of prey species. In order to prevent that from happening, we must carefully monitor the numbers and use smart management strategies to make sure the proper balance is achieved.
    WDFW would have the best info but right now we have not reached 15 breeding pairs yet. I think the number is close but not yet there. Remember the number needs to be at least 15 breeding pairs for 3 consecutive years before de-listing. There around 18 or more confirmed packs in WA, and the wolf population increases in number by 30-40% per year. These numbers are very difficult to be specific on though simply because tracking dogs all over the state with any precision is very very difficult. It’s hard enough to track the true number of elk and they are much easier to see. While WDFW hasn’t formally identified any packs west of the cascades it’s commonly believed that they exist, but due to the density of the timber west of the cascades have not been formally identified yet.

  5. The really ironic thing here is that the proponents of reintroduction have nothing at risk, the opponents generally have some or all of their livelihoods at risk and those of us in the middle will wind up paying for all of it irrespective of final outcome.

    If all it takes is better predation to reestablish natural balance then we should allow more hunting licenses…but that’s not how we manage wildlife or wildlands. We altered the balance for a reason, but then set about restricting ourselves from filling the void we’d created. The wolves were eliminated in Washington for a reason, we’re seeing that now with this minor skirmish and unfortunately it’s not going to end well for the wolves or for the cattlemen who require a relatively predator free environment,

    • Jack Kennedy says:

      Erik,
      You’re right that ranchers shoulder an uneven burden when it comes to the effects of the resurgence of wolves in WA. The WDFW is actively working with them, including using lethal removal where necessary. Wolves are, however, a native species to WA and play an important role in the ecosystem. I don’t think anyone wants a species on this planet, or in WA, to become extinct because of human factors. The wolves in WA were here first. It wasn’t until European settlers began to move here and start ranching that they pushed wolves out by eradicating the species from WA. They went too far in doing that. Also the wolves were not “reintroduced” in WA, they have naturally dispersed back from neighboring populations. What we didn’t have in the early 1900’s was a grasp on wildlife management. Unfortunately, there’s really no such thing as a natural balance any longer in most states. People have tipped the scales irreversibly when it comes to wildlife. Population expansion and development have put us all into such close proximity that we really need to actively manage populations of wildlife if we want them to be present and sustainable. If left unmanaged people would easily eradicate the salmon, elk and deer populations in WA as well. So in order to strike a balance we have management plans to assess carrying capacity for a certain species in a specific areas, we work with ranchers to help protect their interests, and like you mentioned we use hunters to help keep those populations within their target carrying capacity and on their targeted management units. Wildlife management is constantly in flux trying to study each species numbers, habits and terrain, and find the right recipe to protect people’s interests while maintaining as close as possible something that resembles the Natural order. Right now we’re still in the re-establishment phase, so it’s tricky. But once the population is established, and sustainable (which should be soon), permits will be opened up and hunting pressure will drive the wolf populations away from ranches and into locations they can survive without doing so much harm. At the same time providing financial resources for the state, possibly for ranchers, and sporting opportunities for residents. This is the same thing we do with elk and deer when they damage orchardists orchards or farmers crops. I’m confident that this will work out well for everyone assuming the law is followed.

      • Jack,

        I appreciate your thoughtful and detailed responses to this thread. It’s clear that you’re very knowledgeable in the subject matter and that you’re very passionate about the topic.

        Bottom line from my perspective:
        -wolves will become an urban/suburban danger…they will not remain in the wilderness areas by choice nor will they be kept there by hunting permits that may or may not ever come to fruition. Bears don’t, cougars don’t, bob cats don’t, coyotes don’t, wolves won’t.
        -ranchers and small farm owners will sustain the bulk of the financial and risk burden with little to no compensation
        -the WDFW will receive federal money to benefit their operations but little to none will be available to the folks who are financially harmed by their wildlife management plans
        -in rural areas the practice of shoot, shovel and shut up will likely become more widespread as folks protect their interests when the state and feds won’t.

        Wolf management plan isn’t a plan, it’s a hope. Hope is not a plan. And it’ll be cold comfort to the individual citizens who are harmed as a result.

        • Jack Kennedy says:

          Eric,
          We’ll never achieve, nor would most people want, a hermetically sealed existence from wildlife. And again you’re right all those other predators interact with us in some way. But they are all managed and it’s rare that they cause major problems. Wolves are no different. They will become another component of the system. We will adjust and ranchers will adjust. Maybe you disagree, and that’s fine. My goal is just to provide info and spur more educated discussion. It’s great that you brought these points up because a lot of people feel the same way. WDFW is having a wolf management plan meeting in North Bend on 9/14 and 15 I believe. I assume it’s open to the public. Could be another place to find out more information.

          • I don’t want a hermetically sealed environment either. But I did want to bring some counterbalance to the sunshine, rainbows and Unicorn dust that generally gets thrown about around man living in peace with apex predators. One thing that us suburbanites need to keep in mind, the rural areas are not our personal parklands, decisions driven by the population centers have real effects for people who largely don’t have a voice in the process because there just aren’t enough of them. What’s right for Seattle isn’t necessarily what’s right for Bellevue, what’s right for Bellevue isn’t necessarily what’s right for North Bend and what’s right for North Bend likely isn’t what’s right for Republic/Kettle Falls, etc. Personally I believe in an acceptable level of loss on both sides and right now it looks to be just about right….but at the moment I don’t have a dog in the fight, that will change when my neighbors and I start losing dogs and cats and goats and chickens and cows and horses.

  6. Tim Noonan says:

    Wow, what a conversation. My horse was loosing its tail and had bite marks all over its haunches. It is an old mare and a very gentle animal. I didn’t know what was going on and then my daughter was visiting and told me that the neighbor’s dogs were attacking the horse when I was at work. A pair of german shepherds were eventually caught in the drive way as they were disemboweling my son’s black lab. I trapped and held one of the german shepherds. His dog died of the injuries and I returned the dog to the owners, but should have put it down. I cautioned the neighbors that their dogs most likely posed a threat to their young child and to be cautious. I was told that the german shepherds are gentle and kind. I simply reinforced my caution. After a time, the dogs did attack the child and were destroyed. The young family moved away.

    The first wolf that I encountered was on I-90 just East of North Bend in 1984. It was a stunning sight. The animal was beautiful and deserved my admiration. I’ve seen another in the area in 2005. The local biologists said, “not possible”. That was the same response that I got when I reported seeing Peregrin Falcons in the Snoqualmie area 20 years ago.

    The wolves are back….finally. The wolves are shy and not a danger, but the local dogs that our neighbors let run at night and other times, are. Whether you know it or not, we have BIG cats, bear, elk and all sorts of wildlife walking through our yards at night. On occasion, we loose a cat (probably to an owl or raccoon) or a dog to an unknown cause. My brother has lost goats and Peacocks to neighborhood dog packs. I’ve shoveled pets off the roads.

    Often times, I need to step outside of my ego when I begin to characterize and vilify. My friends who raise beef have told me since I was a child in the early 60’s, that they regularly loose an animal to a hungry family. Today, the wolves are a non existent statistical loss to beef producers. They do go after game animals, but mostly small rodents that you would not even think about. I’ve seen wolves around here for more than 20 years. Mountain Lions have scared more people without being problematic.

    What is really scary is the result of the presidential election. The wildlife will do just fine, as it always has, invisible to almost everyone unless there is an article in the news.

    Incidentally, we locals were able to get 450+ acres of land purchased into public ownership 20 years ago. Meadowbrook Farm. If you don’t know what it is, it is a park that receives minuscule funding from the City of North Bend and the City of Snoqualmie and has produced a herd of elk that is breathtaking. King County brought us Three Forks Park a number of years later.

    We do have a voice in what happens locally. We can shape how our area develops, but it requires participation and the push back is often overwhelming. Come to a Board meeting on the second Monday of the month at the Interpretive Center if you would like to make a difference in our community. Wolves are welcome to attend.

Speak Your Mind

*