A member of the Teanaway wolf pack in Washington state. A judge in King County prevented state officials from killing the last of a wolf pack on Friday morning, hours after four of the five remaining wolves from that pack were killed by state agents.
Enlarge Icon
A member of the Teanaway wolf pack in Washington state. A judge in King County prevented state officials from killing the last of a wolf pack on Friday morning, hours after four of the five remaining wolves from that pack were killed by state agents.
Credit: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Four wolves killed by Washington state agents — hours before court hearing to protect them

The fate of the last wolf from that pack will be determined at trial.

A King County Superior Court judge ordered state officials on Friday morning to temporarily stop killing members of a wolf pack in the Colville National Forest, in northeastern Washington — but their fate had already been decided.

Hours earlier, state officials had already killed most of the pack, known as the Old Profanity Territory pack.

They had killed four of them early Friday morning — before the 9:30 a.m. court hearing started. They’d killed four others between July 13 and August 13.

That left only one wolf still alive when the restraining order was issued. That animal’s fate will be decided at a trial.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was killing the wolves because the pack had killed or injured 14 cattle over the past 10 months.

“Lethal removal” of wolves that attack livestock is part of the state’s strategy for managing wolves in the eastern third of the state, where the animals are not federally listed as an endangered species.

It costs the state about $20,000 to kill one wolf.

Before the state kills wolves, ranchers have to prove they took reasonable steps to protect their livestock, such as employing cowboys known as range riders, using light and noise to scare wolves away from cattle, and removing sick and injured animals from the range.

The Center for a Humane Economy, the organization that sued the state to stop killing the wolf pack, said the rancher did not take adequate steps.

In fact, the rancher asked those state range riders – meant to scare the wolves – to leave his range on July 8. Nine of the 14 wolf attacks on cattle occurred that day and in the following month.

The judge ruled that there was enough of a question about whether or not the rancher had taken adequate preventative steps to allow the case to go to trial.

By killing four of the wolves in the early morning hours the day of the hearing, the state was acting in “tremendously bad faith,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Center for a Humane Economy.

“It’s like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to get these wolves now, in case the judge stops us,’” he said.

Staci Lehman, a spokesperson for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said it was just a matter of “unfortunate timing.”

“It’s always unfortunate whenever we have to remove wolves,” Lehman said. “It’s never taken lightly by anybody at the department.”

This is the second wolf pack state officials have eliminated from the same territory in less than three years. State agents killed seven members of the pack that previously occupied the area, known as the Profanity Peak pack, in 2016.

The area has lots of elk and deer and potential den sites, so both environmentalists and the state agree that a new pack is likely to form there soon.

But, Lehman said, a new pack wouldn’t necessarily attack livestock.

“If we start off with a new pack using preventative measures” that teach wolves not to prey on livestock, she says — measures such as range riders and light and noise — “then hopefully we can prevent that.”

But Pacelle said he’d rather that the Forest Service end grazing allotments in wolf habitat such as this. He says that would be the best way to minimize conflict between wolves and livestock.

The eight wolves from the Old Profanity Territory pack are unlikely to be the last ones state wildlife officials kill this year.

State agents have a current lethal removal order for one to two members of the Togo Pack, another northeast Washington wolf pack accused of attacking livestock.

That would bring the number of wolves killed by state agents this year to nine or 10 — seven to eight percent of Washington’s total wolf population.

Correction, 8/19/2019: An earlier version of this story misstated the time frame during which the first four wolves of the pack were killed by state agents.