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Wolf war howls between western and eastern Washington

An epic and contentious battle is being waged in Washington state over the expansion of wolves. Len McIrvin describes the issue as a “war.” His family has been ranching for six generations. Today, he says wolves are threatening their livelihood.

“It’s a different world over here in the back country, in Stevens, in Ferry, and in Okanogan County,” McIrvin said. “It is so wild. We’ve got areas on our range where it is just a boneyard with cow skeletons, with what bones are left of these cows. We’ve got one area where you can almost step from skull-to-skull of dead cows, where the wolves are running them into canyons, or running them into heavy timber area where they can’t escape. It’s a terrible disaster going on over here.”

The latest annual report in 2018 says the State of Washington has 122 wolves in 22 packs, with 14 successful breeding pairs. But since the release of that report wolf advocates say there are at least three less wolves. Two more were recently added to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife kill list.

Therein lies the beef.

Wolf advocates

Amaroq Weiss, a wolf advocate from The Center of Biological Diversity says the WDFW is beholden to ranchers and continues to kill wolves against science and the law. Weiss’ group has attempted to get temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions to halt killing of wolves. They have so far been unsuccessful. There is a lawsuit still pending over the issue. They argue the state is violating the environmental policy act.

“Because it has never conducted a scientific analysis of their kill protocol and kill orders,” “And the state is violating the administrative procedures act. Because the actions they are taking are not being done under a reasoned decision making process. Quite the contrary. Their decisions are quite irrational.”

When wolves are suspected of killing cattle, WDFW officers investigate. It wolves are behind the attacks and non-lethal methods attempted by ranchers don’t stop the cattle killing, then the agency’s policy is to issue a kill order.

Recently, the WDFW has added the last two members of the Old Profanity Territory pack to a kill list.

Weiss says McIrvin is to blame for 17 of the 22 wolf killings by the WDFW, as well as the latest two wolves added to the list. She argues that McIrvin should have moved his cattle – that is the core problem. The cows and the wolves are mingling an area known to be a high-wolf use site – where wolves keep their pups.

“So the wolves are not going to go away,” Weiss said. “The reason the cattle are being drawn there is there are salt blocks there for the cattle. Not that the rancher placed them there on purpose … the point is that once you know that is causing a conflict, you need to move the salt blocks and you need to move the cattle away.”

Weiss says that action did not happen in 2016 or in 2018 when incidents happened. The rancher was instructed to move his salt blocks by the agency, however, Weiss says.

“So you have a situation in which the wolves are being set up to attack cattle because the cattle are coming right into the site where they have their pups,” she said. “And nobody is doing anything about it.”

Washington: West vs east

McIrvin says those salt blocks have been there for over 60 years, and moving the salt blocks wouldn’t have made a lick of difference because wolves are smart and they follow the food source. He says this isn’t about wolves.

“This is a plan, a program, an agenda,” McIrvin said. “The wolf thing is an agenda. When they hauled those wolves and dumped them on us, it was an agenda to get cattle out of the mountains.”

McIrvin says at the end of the day, wolf advocates shouldn’t have a say in what happens in the backcountry. He lays out a metaphor of eastside cowboys starting a committee to interfere with, and solve, Seattle’s homelessness problem.

“The wolves are terrible, they’ve cost us well over a million dollars,” McIrvin said. “If there is a problem we have to have local control … We’ve got a terrible situation with wolves killing stock, they are putting cattlemen out of business, they are putting sheepmen out of business.”

“And for the people on the left side of the state to say they have a voice in this — they don’t. This has to be a problem taken care of locally, by our local sheriff in each individual county,” he said. “Can you imagine the wreck if you got a committee of a bunch of cowboys over here on the eastside who said ‘We are going to fix Seattle’s homeless problem? It can’t be done. It’s the same wreck with a bunch of people on the westside saying, ‘we’re going to fix the wolf problem for those people on the eastside.’”

Meantime, Weiss says they hope the lawsuits they have against the WDFW will bear fruit. She says the public has become more aware about the wolf issue.

“The agency is overseen by a commission … and those commissioners are appointed by the governor – Governor Jay Inslee,” Weiss said. “…I encourage everyone to call Governor Jay Inslee. To not only call the director of WDFW, also call Governor Jay Inslee. The agency needs to be reined in. It’s violating the law. It is not following the science. It is actually violating several key components of the state wolf plan as well. And it’s time to stop.”

The WDFW has not responded to interview requests.

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