Washington state judge blocks kill order on wolves to save cattle

SPOKANE, Wash. — A judge in Washington has issued an emergency order blocking the state from killing members of a wolf pack that have been preying on cattle.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife had announced Monday morning that it would immediately begin efforts to kill members of the wolf pack who had been preying on cattle in Washington’s northeastern Ferry County, near the Canadian border.

Members of the Togo wolf pack have preyed on cattle three times in the past 30 days and six times in the past 10 months, which exceeds the state’s threshold to take action, the agency said.

But two environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging that decision, and a Thurston County Superior Court judge on Monday afternoon issued an order to temporarily block the hunt. A hearing on the matter was set for Aug. 31.

In a news release, agency director Kelly Susewind said the department planned to shoot the wolves from helicopters or on the ground. “The evidence shows that non-lethal measures have not been successful, and the pack will continue preying on livestock unless we take action to change its behavior,” Susewind said.

The agency uses a policy of incremental removal, killing one or a few wolves at a time.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands immediately sued, contending the order to kill wolves failed to undergo an environmental analysis.

“It’s outrageous that Washington wildlife officials want to kill more wolves from the state’s small and recovering wolf population,” said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Washingtonians overwhelmingly want wolves recovered,” she said. “This is not the Old West anymore.”

Since 2012, the state has killed 18 wolves, eradicating three entire wolf packs, the environmental groups said.

In the case of the Togo pack, the attacks on cattle started last November, with an injured calf. The rancher took numerous steps to deter wolves, including using lights and range riders, the agency said.

But three dead cows and two more injured calves were discovered in the next 10 months, including an injured calf found Saturday on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment in Ferry County.

“The injured calf had bite lacerations and bite puncture wounds to the outside lower left hindquarter, the left hamstring, the inside of the left hock and the groin area,” the agency said. The wounds were consistent with a wolf attack, officials said.

The last estimate of Togo pack size was two adult wolves and an unknown number of pups, the agency said. The existence of the Togo pack, found near the U.S.-Canada border, was only confirmed in late 2017.

Wolves were wiped out in Washington early in the last century. They started to return from Canada and Idaho in the past 20 years. Washington confirmed its first breeding pack in 2008.

The wolves are federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state and protected by law statewide.

The latest count of wolves, conducted last winter, found a minimum of 122 wolves in 22 packs, with 14 successful breeding pairs. Most packs are in northeastern Washington, where there have been numerous conflicts with cattle producers.

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