A wolf pack that ranges south from the Canadian border into northeast Washington has been targeted for elimination by the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, despite protected status for the animals.
Ranchers in the area say the notorious Wedge pack of wolves, which move back and forth across the border between B.C. and Washington, have turned to livestock as their primary food source.
"These wolves in this Wedge pack act different," says rancher Len McIrvin. "They are not eating any game, they are living strictly on cattle."
The Wedge pack consists of at least eight grey wolves, whose range includes a remote, wedge-shaped area of northern Stevens County bordered by Canada and the Columbia and Kettle rivers.
Wolves were eradicated in Washington by homesteaders almost a century ago, but their protected status has led to a recovery as the wolves moved in from Idaho, Montana and Canada.
Fish and wildlife director Phil Anderson said the Wedge pack is believed to have killed or injured at least 15 cattle from the Diamond M herd, which grazes near the Canadian border.
"Once wolves become habituated to livestock as their primary food source, all of the wolf experts we’ve talked to agree that we have no alternative but to remove the entire pack," Anderson said. "By doing that, we will preserve the opportunity for the recovery of grey wolves in balance with viable livestock operations."
Natural prey such as white-tailed deer are abundant in the area, wildlife officials said.
Anderson said marksmen would hunt the wolves from the ground, but helicopters might be used if necessary.
Various non-lethal methods to control the predation were attempted by the rancher and wildlife officials, the department said, without success.
The alpha male of the Wedge pack is equipped with a GPS and radio collar, which allows its movements to be tracked, and the cattle depredations matched the movements of the wolf and the accompanying pack.
The department said the eastern Washington area has six confirmed packs — including the Wedge pack — and three other suspected packs, and that the elimination of one pack will not prevent a wider recovery of the wolves.