I am subscribed to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife email notification list. When I check my email and I see a message from WDFW Wildlife Program with the subject “New update on Washington wolves” my heart skips a beat. All too often it will say that there has been a confirmed wolf depredation or that wolves are going to be killed by the department. Our endangered wolves are caught between hostile states to our east, tribes with unlimited year-round killing, in-state poachers and state sanctioned killing.
Over the past several years, we have been told that wolf recovery in our state was a success story because the population was increasing 30% or so per year. But that was simply a reflection of the fact that the count started from a very low base. Over the past year, the department’s count showed a population increase of only four individuals, from 122 to 126 — just 3.3%.
Depredations have begun early this year and I fear that this spells serious problems for our wolves as the season progresses. The received wisdom within the department is that of incremental killing and then an evaluation period to see if the depredations have stopped. If they have not, then the killing continues. This relies on the assumption that somehow wolves will learn that if they kill a cow, they themselves will be killed. But, since these two events are separated in time and in space, it is unlikely that they make that connection. These animals live in the moment and do not understand the rules that we try to impose upon them. We need to focus more on changing human behavior since we are the one who create those rules.
In a recent OPT Pack (OPT is the acronym for Old Profanity Territory) update on the department’s website, Director Susewind is quoted as saying: “The department is working very hard to try to change this pack’s behavior, while also working with a diversity of stakeholders on how to prevent the cycle from repeating.” But this does not seem to be working — remember the destruction of the Profanity Peak Pack in 2016, in the same location the OPT Pack now occupies (See my letter to The Daily World on Sept. 7, 2016). Kill them all and others will take their place. This is ideal wolf territory and only marginal cattle grazing land. In discussing the recent depredations on the Department’s website, it was noted that “The exact date calves were injured could not be determined from the evidence present, but injuries on two of the calves were estimated to be four to five days old and injuries on the third calf were at least a week old.” That it takes this long to find an injured calf highlights just how unsuitable this terrain is for grazing.
It should be noted that of the 23 wolves that have been killed by WDFW, 18 of them are due to one rancher, who turns his cows and calves loose in the Profanity Peak territory. The breeding male of this pack was killed by WDFW on July 13 and Director Susewind has re-authorized more killing, perhaps with the goal of killing the remaining seven wolves (three adults and four pups).
On March 12 of this year, Dan Ashe, former head of USFWS testified before a U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources subcommittee. He was asked whether he thought that wolves had recovered and could be removed from the Endangered Species List. He responded that based upon information from the agency’s scientists that they were recovered. But, he added that he had been “sobered” by a disturbing trend in state-based management in certain western states which seem to be returning to a philosophy of treating wolves as vermin. This is not the intent of recovery.
He also noted that of the 5,000 species of mammals on the planet, humans comprise 36%, domesticated animals comprise 60% and wild animals only 4%. Also, 70% of all birds are domesticated, mostly chickens, and that 90% of all fish are overfished.
We need to stop and think about what we are doing.