Killing of wolf pack sparks growing controversy

By Josh Magill

 The slaughter of a wolf pack by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife to assuage concerns of local cattle ranchers in the north-central section of the state has triggered an enormous political backlash.

At the center of the controversy is Bill McIrvin, co-owner of the Diamond M Ranch in Colville, Washington.

An online petition dubbed “Remove Bill McIrvin’s Herd from Public Land” was created by outraged folks after the late September cull of eight wolves, called the Wedge Pack, in northeast Washington.  McIrvin, with his family, owns and operates the Diamond M Ranch that urged Washington’s Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDF&W) to eradicate the cattle-hungry wolf pack.  The McIrvins claim that up to 40 calves and cattle have been attacked or killed by the wolves since 2007.

The petition has garnered just more than 100 electronic signatures, but does not have much hope of actually ending the public land lease the ranch has to graze their livestock.  But it isn’t the petition McIrvin is worried about.

McIrvin explained to NBC News that he believes groups with “a radical environmental agenda” are conspiring to introduce gray wolves in order “to take our (grazing) lease from us.”

“We have the right to protect our property,” McIrvin said, adding that he considered the wildlife department “a rogue government agency” that was essentially saying “we got to sit back and do nothing while the wolves kill our livestock.”

Conservation Northwest, a group who is working with the state, reluctantly agreed that killing the pack was best for long-term recovery of gray wolves in the wild. 

But director Mitch Friedman told NBC News that McIrvin “has total responsibility for the problem” for not being as cooperative as other ranchers with programs aimed at keeping cattle and wolves apart.

Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of Conservation Northwest, which supported the action of the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife in culling the Wedge Pack wolves. Picture courtesy of the C NW.

The wildlife department “has not been as firm as it needed to be,” Friedman added, considering McIrvin’s cattle graze on public land.

At a public hearing held by the WDF&W in early October, many people voiced concerns about why non-lethal methods were not used sooner or fully to deter the wolves.  McIrvin spoke out saying that his ranch had done everything the WDF&W had suggested “except for a range-riding program and we have five riders of our own who do it very well.”

“We refused compensation for our killed stock because it would look like it was all right if the wolves ate our cattle as long as we got compensated,” added McIrvin.  “It’s not all right.  Half of the cattle were killed on our private ground, not on public land.  Also, the game in the Wedge area is decimated.  There’s bears, cougars and wolves and there’s no game base left.  We need regional delisting.”

However, emotions continue to run high over the decision and the debate over wolf management in Washington will likely remain intense.

“We know these issues spark strong feelings among Washington residents across the state, which is why we are committed to conducting our business openly and transparently,” said WDF&W Director Phil Anderson.

The level of pressure on state wildlife managers has caused such blowback that calling the main number for the WDF&W results in a tell-tale recording: “If you’re calling regarding the Wedge Wolf Pack, please press # or the number sign now.”

John Marzluff, professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington, says the intensity of emotion from folks on both sides of the issue is to be expected.

John Marzluff, professor at the Univerrsity of Washington. Picture courtesy of the UW.

“I think we have deep-seated feelings about wolves for the same reason we have them about crows and ravens,” says Marzluff.  “These animals all lived close with us [earlier in our history].  As we evolved, they scavenged with us.”

“Often when we see wolves or ravens or crows, they are around the dead,” adds Marzluff.  “Seeing this would be a powerful motivator and it would have scared early people.  Now, we know these animals are not a menace to humans, but our culture is filled with the images of them as beasts.  Culture is hard to shake and it causes us to see wolves in a way that is not real.  We see them as we have learned about them, as a challenge to our existence.”

In an Oct 29 Seattle Times editorial, Marzluff went further saying he felt the removal of the Wedge pack “was an avoidable response to disingenuous ranchers who took advantage of the unwillingness of conservation agencies and advocacy groups to spend political capital.”

Marzluff disputes the notion that the Diamond M Ranch engaged all deterrent methods and says ranchers using public lands to graze that do not employ all methods should be penalized, rather than “squandering public funds.” 

The professor says that humans haven’t learned from past mistakes with wolf packs and should change our tactics to see a better result.

“Our future holds more conflicts with wildlife,” states Marzluff in his editorial.  “By learning to live with other forms of life, even those our ancestors reviled, we not only improve our ecosystem’s resilience – we show our uniqueness as a species.”

A long road awaits Washington on this topic, and it looks as though Washington will be on the front lines of the issue in the Pacific Northwest.

©  2012  Josh Magill

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9 Responses to Killing of wolf pack sparks growing controversy

  1. Paula Morris says:

    This is an issue which enrages me!

    I am more prone to say: Do away with the dang ranchers, not the wolves. Wolves are a species that regulate overpopulation of deer, elk, (mostly the weak and sick among those species) and if they are starving….because of habitat loss….then what is wrong with them eating a few domestic cattle!? It’s always all about money and profit! These dog gone (and I’m being nice here) ranchers….especially those using public lands…..have been the enemy of our natural environment from day one! As soon as fences go up on public land….there’s trouble!

    The natural web of life……predator/prey/balance…..is the way we need to evolve (back to that is) in order to assure a healthy environment for the future. Ranchers don’t care about the environment. They call any concern about the environment “radical.” What’s truly radical is that they can pollute the land with toxic run-off from all the crowded domestic animal crap; wipe-out plant species from over-grazing; slaughter our natural animal populations and then complain about it!!!

    We all need less meat in our diets but thanks to these greedy ranchers….we all think we need red meat every meal! And don’t even get me started on the poisonous junk we get at fast food troughs like McDonalds!

    Without being emotional (as in the fact that wolves mate for life, are loyal to each other and their pack, and wolf pups are beyond beautiful little creatures), it just makes sense to keep our animal monitors at the top of the food chain. I personally eat red meat 1-2 times per month now….sometimes not even that.

    We need to decrease the domestic cattle population, ranchers, disgusting factory farms, inhumane slaughter practices, unhealthy cattle feed, etc.

    Down with ranchers—Up with wolves!!! In fact, feed the ranchers to the wolves!!! (Just venting here)

  2. williambillybudd says:

    Bruce

    This thing is a mess, I feel the government should have stayed out of this from the beginning and not re-introduced wolves. I am not a big fan of wolves and I am way less a big fan of government messing with lives. Another example of government miss-steps is the pheasant release program at riff lake. Every Friday during hunting season the state releases cage raised pheasant so that Saturday and Sunday the birds can be shot by people who want to hunt. These birds know nothing about being wild, most just sit still until the hawks and eagles get them, some of them make it to my place and hang out with our chickens. Weird!

    Wayne Cooke says you guys want to come and visit. Cool,. come hungry, stay awhile.

    the Budds

    • brucesmith49 says:

      You got it, Billy. I’ll have to coordinate with Wayne – we have so many places to go, so little time…we’re retired you know. Or just plain tired.

    • Paula Morris says:

      I agree with you on the pheasant release thing…..but it’s NOT “Big Government” doing this….it’s to appease the “special interest” group of hunters (NRA supported) who want to “bag” anything that flies, walks, crawls, jumps, etc…….so long as they can use their GUNS! You publicans have it all mixed up. You don’t want government in the way yet you approve military (government) actions. You don’t like any hand outs for the poor, but you LOVE farm subsidies, corporate tax breaks, free medical for congress, tax cuts for the wealthy, …..come on!!!

  3. kitcatalina says:

    I thought I’d find it easily, but not so.
    Paula, where do I find the petition Remove Bill McIrvin’s Herd from Public Land? I’d like to sign it.
    Thanks, Catalina

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