SPOKANE, Wash. — A lawsuit filed Thursday seeks to prevent the state of Washington from killing more wolves from a pack that is preying on cattle.
The Maryland-based Center for a Humane Economy filed the suit in King County Superior Court, contending too many wolves have been killed as a way to protect livestock at a single ranch in the Kettle River Range in Ferry County.
The center and other conservation groups say it may be time to consider moving the cattle off Colville National Forest grazing lands that are also prime wolf habitat.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday it planned to kill more members of the Old Profanity Territory wolf pack. The agency killed one wolf last month in an effort to change the behavior of the pack.
Since then, the pack has been blamed for killing two cows and injuring five others. The pack is credited with 27 depredations since September.
“The chronic livestock depredations and subsequent wolf removals are stressful and deeply concerning for all those involved,” agency director Kelly Susewind said. “The department is working very hard to try to change this pack’s behavior.”
The Lands Council, a Spokane-based conservation group, said it may be time to move the cattle.
“It is evident at this point, grazing in an area of prime wolf habitat is folly,” said Chris Bachman of the Lands Council.
Bachman noted that wolves have come into regular conflict with cattle from the Diamond M Ranch in Ferry County. Conservation groups say the state has killed 18 wolves over the years on behalf of the ranch.
Ranch owner Len McIrvin said his business averages 70 head of cattle lost per year to wolves, and he estimated his losses at more than $1 million.
He doesn’t think wolves will stop preying on his cattle just because the state kills a few of the animals.
“If wolves kill my cattle, I have a right to kill wolves,” he said.
The Center for Biological Diversity also opposes killing more wolves.
“If this rancher keeps putting cattle in prime wolf habitat, he needs to accept some losses just like any other business,” said Sophia Ressler, an attorney at the center.
In 2016, the agency wiped out the Profanity Peak pack of wolves for preying on cattle. The current pack occupies the same general area.
Wolves were exterminated in Washington state by the 1930s on behalf of ranchers. The animals started returning earlier this century from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia.
Most of the wolves are located in the rugged mountains of northeastern Washington, but they have started spreading to other areas of the state.
Officials say the state now has at least 126 wolves in 27 packs with 15 successful breeding pairs. For the first time, a pack has been found living west of the Cascade Range.
Gray wolves are no longer listed as an endangered species under federal protection in eastern Washington. They are still federally protected across the rest of the state, although the federal government is considering lifting those protections.