By Josh Magill
Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker stated on Thursday that he wants to know the specifics of why the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDF&W) decided to eliminate a pack of wolves known as the “Wedge Pack” in northeastern Washington.
Ranker, a Democrat from Orcas Island who chairs the Senate committee overseeing the WDF&W, is expected to open hearings in January regarding the killing, and spoke to King 5 News on Thursday.
“I’m going to be holding a hearing on this and really diving into the facts,” said Ranker. “What did happen and what didn’t happen. What did the rancher do? What did the rancher do or not do to try and prevent this situation?”
Despite the recent culling, the wolf is considered the one animal making a comeback in the United States. This year the BBC and the Discovery Channel premiered captivating films on Washington’s wolves with their respective documentaries: Land of the Lost Wolves and Man vs. Wolf.
The latter film documents the return of the “Lookout Pack,” the first wolf pack to return to the American Northwest in 70 years when they moved into the snowy peaks of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. Conservation Northwest’s special projects director, Jasmine Minbashian, led a team of biologists to discover the fate of this pioneer pack of wolves, showing just how resilient wolves have become.
“The return of wolves to Washington is one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time,” says Minbashian. “From the high of first finding pups on Conservation Northwest’s cameras, to the low of learning that most of the pack had been killed by poachers, then back to another high of our cameras finding a new Cascades pack again. There is so much drama, twists, and turns in this plot that you could make a movie about it. And they did!”
Because of such success, Ranker has been critical of the WDF&W’s decision to kill the members of the Wedge Pack and their methods. Sharpshooters in a helicopter had used a locator collar placed on the alpha to track down the wolves, and then they eliminated the entire group in September.
Ranker told King 5 News he feels WDF&W and operators of the Diamond M Ranch should have tried other methods to deter the wolves from preying on cattle grazing on public forest lands in the Colville National Forest. He was curious why the ranch got such protection for their cattle while grazing on public land.
Ranker said he has gathered evidence over the last two months that raise questions about the number of attacks and what efforts were actually taken to deter them. He states he has uncovered emails from federal wolf experts, like Hilary Colley, urging the state to cancel the slaughter of the pack and saying the decision was being made prematurely. Ranker said he will be calling in wolf experts similar to Colley, who is the wolf coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department, to testify at the hearing.
“There is no benefit to rushing decision,” stated Colley in one of those emails. “The wolves aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and non-lethal could be used in the meantime. You should give it a week before making a decision.”
Ranker stated he understands WDF&W is in a very difficult situation and he is not going to ask for reprimands or resignations. But he said he wants to clarify the state’s policies on lethal removal of wolves to prevent this situation from happening again.
Minbashian grapples with undersatnding a state policy that allows one wolf pack to thrive while another is slaughtered.
“It means that the Cascade Mountains are becoming whole again,” offered Minbashian. “The top predator is returning to help keep deer and elk in check, to restore plant communities, and to even restore salmon streams.
“But wolves also challenge us. They are a test to humanity, a test of whether we, as a society, can accept some wildness in our hearts and in our landscape. I think wolves, of all species, test us the hardest. Are we up for it?”
© 2012 Josh Magill