Agency Sends Helicopter to Gun Down Huckleberry Pack Despite Assurances to Rely on Nonlethal Means to Curb Loss of Livestock
OLYMPIA, Wash.— Conservation groups learned today that the Washington Department of Wildlife has abandoned nonlethal measures to deter further loss of sheep and instead use a helicopter to gun down members of the Huckleberry wolf pack. The groups learned that the department was unsuccessful today, but plans to return at first light Sunday in southeast Stevens County.
“The department’s secretive weekend assault on this endangered wolf pack goes beyond the pale,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “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.”
Between Aug. 11 and 12, 14 sheep were confirmed as killed by members of the Huckleberry pack in southwestern Stevens County. Department director Phil Anderson told members of the public and the Fish and Wildlife Commission that nonlethal measures were being deployed to deter further loss of sheep and provided no notice of the move to kill wolves. Moreover, when contacted by a concerned citizen today, department game division manager Dave Ware replied that he couldn’t talk about it.
“Nonlethal measures, such as range riders and moving the sheep, were being put in place and should have been allowed to work before the agency moved to kill wolves,” said Weiss. “With only 52 confirmed wolves in Washington, we can’t afford to kill any, particularly when nonlethal measures have yet to be fully tried.”
At a Fish and Wildlife Commission hearing on Aug. 15, department officials told the commission they had a range rider and multiple staff at the site to create a human presence that would scare wolves away. Department officials also said the band of 1,800 sheep would be moved to a new location. However, staff subsequently went home for a night or two and the sheep were not moved – nor were sheep carcasses removed – and there were subsequently four more sheep deaths on Aug 18 and 19. As of today, the sheep band still has not been moved and sheep carcasses, which could draw in wolves, still remain.
On Aug. 20, Department Director Phil Anderson issued a kill order authorizing agency staff and the sheep rancher to kill any wolves in the vicinity of the sheep, even though most of the conflict-prevention measures the department said would be in place were not. The range rider was not on the ground until the morning of Aug. 21, almost a week after the department assured the commission of his presence, and the department had not accepted an offer from a conservation group of a loan of special lights that deter predators and are being used in other parts of the west.
On Aug. 21, eight conservation groups sent a letter to the department, urging the agency to continue efforts to deter wolves from killing more sheep using nonlethal means rather than killing wolves, as it did two years ago when seven members of the Wedge pack were killed.
“The Huckleberry Pack has pups that were born late this spring, making them only a few months old. If the adults are killed, those pups will starve to death,” said Weiss. “What kind of a public agency assures the public it is relying on nonlethal methods then secretly sends in aerial snipers to kill the pack while the public is sleeping in on a weekend morning?”
The controversial killing of the Wedge pack in 2012 cost taxpayers $76,500; it is unknown how much it is costing the state to gun down the Huckleberry Pack. The sheep operator’s losses are estimated at $5,000 and, if he has been using adequate nonlethal conflict prevention methods prior to the losses, would be eligible for compensation from the state.
Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. Since the early 2000s, the animals have started to make a slow comeback by dispersing into Washington from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia. But wolf recovery is still in its infancy, with only an estimated 52 wolves at the end of 2013.