Hunters working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are set to cull several wolves from southern Stevens County after a spree of predatory attacks that left 17 sheep dead and many more wounded. According to the WDFW, wildlife officials and a state rancher are working to move a flock of 1,800 sheep away from the area after four attacks in a forest near the small town of Hunters in the past month. Experts believe that wolves from the Huckleberry Pack are responsible for killing the sheep.
“The rancher has four large guard dogs and camps alongside his flock at night,” WDFW wildlife program director Nate Pamplin said in a press release. “Yet, the attacks have continued, even after the department sent four members of our wildlife-conflict staff and an experienced range-rider to help guard the sheep and begin moving them out of the area.”
The WDFW authorized the rancher to shoot any wolves that approach the flock, and over the weekend sent a team of hunters into the area by helicopter to cull at least four members of the pack. Although no wolves have yet been killed, the move immediately brought criticism from the animal advocacy group the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The department’s secretive weekend assault on this endangered wolf pack goes beyond the pale,” said Amaroq Weiss, wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “It’s unconscionable that a public agency would take action to kill an endangered species without notifying the public. These wolves belong to the public and decisions about whether they live or die ought to be made in the clear light of day.”
Although biologists keep track of many collared wolves throughout the state, there is still no clear count of how many wolves actually live in Washington. A survey taken in 2013 of the 13 confirmed wolf packs in the state placed the wolf population at a minimum of 52 animals, but experts stress that the actual number could be much higher. The Huckleberry Pack is expected to range between six and 12 individuals, some of which may be pups. WDFW officials said the pack has gained a reputation for attacking livestock over the past month, and the non-lethal methods supported by animal rights advocates are just not effective in this case.
“As of Friday, we had confirmed that 17 sheep had been killed by wolves in five separate incidents, and we continue to find more dead and wounded sheep from the flock,” WDFW spokesperson Bruce Botka told the Associated Press. “There have been repeated, documented wolf kills; non-lethal methods have not stopped the predation; the attacks are likely to continue, and the livestock owner has not done anything to attract the wolves.”
Washington officials say that wolves generally target deer, elk, and moose. The predators will occasionally kill and eat livestock as “targets of opportunity,” but pens, guard dogs, and proper caution by ranchers can deter wolf attacks.
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