Washington State completes a sharpshooter cull of a wolf pack that had been feeding on livestock. KING 5's Gary Chittim reports.
Sharpshooters taking aim from a helicopter shot dead six gray wolves this week, wrapping up Washington state's strategy of killing off the pack because it had become accustomed to eating cattle.
"It was the hardest decision I've ever made both professionally as well as personally," Phil Anderson, director of Washington's Department of Fish & Wildlife, told NBC station KING5.com on Thursday after the last wolf, the alpha male, was shot dead. "Going out and killing wildlife is not what this agency is all about."
The state had placed a GPS collar on the alpha male when the pack was discovered earlier this year in northeast Washington. That same GPS was then used to track down the wolves.
"The GPS collar on the alpha male enabled us to find the pack’s location fairly easily, although a few times the wolves were pretty inaccessible because of forest cover," department spokesman Dave Ware told NBC News.
A first wolf was killed in early August to see if that would break the pack's habit of attacking cattle.
"Ultimately, it became clear that this pack was preying on livestock as its primary food source, and that our actions had not changed that pattern," Anderson said in a statement Thursday. "The independent wolf experts we consulted agreed with our staff that removal of the pack was the only viable option."
A second wolf was later found dead on land used by cattle to graze. The cause of death was not clear, but the young wolf had not been shot, the department said.
Those deaths left what officials estimated to be a pack of six members, all of them killed this week.
Even if the pack was a bit larger than that, officials don't expect long-term survivors since both the alpha male and female were among those killed.
The wolves were dubbed the "Wedge Pack" because they roamed a wedge-shaped area of the state.
Gray wolves used to roam Washington but were nearly exterminated a century ago by settlers. Efforts to return them to the wild in neighboring states opened a door for a natural return of wolves to Washington, where seven other packs have been established without attacking cattle.
Officials expect new wolves will move into the "Wedge" area since it has plenty of deer, elk and other wildlife. They just hope any future wolves don't become accustomed to cattle.
"It was necessary to reset the stage for sustainable wolf recovery in this region," Anderson stated. "Now we will refocus our attention on working with livestock operators and conservation groups to aggressively promote the use of non-lethal tactics to avoid wolf-livestock conflict."
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