Washington state officials plan to completely kill off an 11-member wolf pack following a rash of attacks on cattle that began in July. State biologists say that the wolves have injured or killed six cows in little more than a month. The predators, named the Profanity Peak pack after the Washington mountain near their territory, possibly also attacked five other cows during the same time, although the evidence that this pack is responsible is less clear.
Earlier in August, the state killed two female wolves belonging to the pack. The decision to kill the rest of the animals, including the wolf pups, hinged on whether the wolves would cease preying on livestock. The Profanity Peak wolves continued to hunt cows, the state said.
“We said we would restart this operation if there was another wolf attack, and now we have three,” Donny Martorello of the Washington Fish and Wildlife department said in a statement. “The department is committed to wolf recovery, but we also have a shared responsibility to protect livestock from repeated depredation by wolves.”
This would be the second time in four years Washington attempted to kill off a wolf pack. In November 2012, a Fish and Wildlife representative told the Spokesman-Review that the department would be hesitant to go after another pack in its entirety, as the “social acceptance is just not there.”
The recent decision has angered some conservationists, who view the announcement to eliminate the pack as contrary to Washington’s wolf recovery plan.
“By no stretch of the imagination can killing 12 percent of the state’s tiny population of 90 wolves be consistent with recovery,” Amaroq Weiss, a wolf conservationist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement at the nonprofit agency’s website. Wolf fans also took to Facebook to excoriate the Fish and Wildlife department.
Wolves returned to Washington state in the mid-2000s, reclaiming habitat that had been devoid of the large carnivores since they were exterminated in the 1930s. Depending on where the wolves are located in the United States, a mixture of federal and state legislation generally protects the animals from being shot; some areas have been more successful than others in balancing ranchers’ livelihoods and the wolves’ hunting instincts. Washington officials are only authorized to shoot wolves after the predators attack and kill a certain number of livestock in a given time.
“Lethal removal will remain a wolf-management option, but we will use it only as a last resort,” Washington Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson told the AP in 2012.
Because the Profanity Peak wolves proved to have a lasting taste for cows, a few conservationist groups agreed that the state response, although extreme, was warranted.
“It’s a disappointing day when the state has to move forward with the last resort of lethal control, but we have come to that day,” Defenders of Wildlife director Shawn Cantrell said in a statement to NBC News. His organization, along with Conservation Northwest, ultimately supports the decision to eliminate the pack.
The Profanity Peak wolves are one of 19 confirmed packs that live in Washington state. When it is exterminated, it will join two former Washington wolf packs: the Diamond pack, which migrated to Idaho, and the Wenatchee pack, which disbanded some time after 2013.
This is not the first time that Washington biologists concluded a wolf pack had to go. In 2012, the state spent $76,500 in an attempt to eradicate the Wedge pack, according to the Spokesman-Review. Killing a wolf pack is not a simple task. Wolves are on a constant hustle for prey, traveling an average of 20 to 30 miles through remote forest daily, and are seldom spotted by humans in Washington.
To kill seven Wedge wolves took more than 40 days, including a 5½-week ground hunt that resulted in one dead wolf and a four-day stretch in which a sharpshooter shot six wolves from a helicopter after tracking the alpha male’s GPS collar. As of December 2015, three wolves remained in the Wedge pack, although none of them were breeding, according to the state’s annual wolf population survey.