SEATTLE— Conservation groups announced today a combined $15,000 reward for information on the poaching of the breeding female of the Wedge wolf pack. The wolf was found dead of a gunshot wound May 26 in the Sheep Creek area of Stevens County in northeast Washington state.
The slain wolf had given birth to pups earlier this year. Because her death occurred when the pups would not yet have been fully weaned, her litter has likely starved to death. Her death also marks the demise of the Wedge pack, which consisted of just two wolves.
The scientific literature concludes that the loss of a breeding member of a wolf pack can lead to dissolution of the pack and abandonment of territory, especially if the pack size is small to begin with.
While gray wolves were prematurely stripped of their federal Endangered Species Act protections, they remain protected under state law in Washington. Despite those legal safeguards, since 2010, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed at least 12 poaching deaths of state-endangered wolves. Annual wolf reports issued by the agency over the same time period show that another 8-16 additional wolves were found dead of “unknown causes.” Just a single poaching conviction resulted from these cases.
The department currently has an agreement with one conservation group for a standing offer of $7,500 in any wolf-poaching case. The reward amounts of $7,500 put forward today by additional groups brings the current total offer to $15,000.
“This senseless act killed a mother wolf and most likely her pups, and it has destroyed the Wedge pack,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Poachers have killed far too many of Washington’s state-endangered wolves without consequence. We urge state officials to take action against those responsible before more wolves meet the same tragic fate.”
“We are angry and heartbroken to learn about the poaching of the Wedge pack’s breeding female,” said Jocelyn Leroux, Washington and Montana director for Western Watersheds Project. “This killing was cruel and senseless and we hope that whoever did this will be held accountable. Poaching of any species is appalling, but the killing of a state-endangered species that is still recovering is particularly unconscionable.”
“This is a cowardly and despicable act,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, a national wildlife advocacy nonprofit. “It is absolutely critical that the perpetrator of this crime be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. WDFW should aggressively pursue all leads that will help bring the individual who carried out this atrocity to justice.”
“Sadly, it’s not surprising, after months of expanded and legalized wolf-killing across the country, that a criminal would be emboldened to poach a wolf in Washington,” said Samantha Bruegger, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “We hope for justice for this wolf, but we know that even more wolves will die nationwide, legally and illegally, until Endangered Species Act protections are restored."
“Washington wildlife officials put tremendous resources towards the Wolf Advisory Group citing its goal of building tolerance for wolves and acceptance between environmentalists and private interest groups, including hunters and ranchers,” said Rachel Bjork, board president for Northwest Animal Rights Network. “Eight years later, we see no social tolerance or compromise from ranchers, and we’re seeing an increase in poaching incidents. A 28% annual mortality rate of wolves is far from meeting our state’s recovery goals.”
“We have proven coexistence tools widely available, and yet some still choose the cowardly route of killing wolves,” said Bethany Cotton, conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands. “We call on law enforcement and WDFW to redouble their efforts to bring the perpetrator to justice and increase efforts to educate communities about the importance of wolves to the ecosystems on which we all depend.”
Anyone who might have information regarding the incident should call the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at (360) 902-2928, visit the department’s website and report a violation, or text WDFWTIP to 847411.
Only 132 confirmed wolves lived in Washington at the end of 2020. There are 24 packs and 13 confirmed breeding pairs on lands managed by the state. Similar to last year’s annual report, the department’s official 2020 count does not include numbers from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, who consider wolves recovered on their lands and no longer undertake an official count.
Published science regarding wolf poaching concludes that for every poached wolf found, one to two more illegally killed wolves go undiscovered. Therefore, as many as 84 wolves may have been poached in Washington in the past nine years.
Since wolves began recolonizing the state in 2007, people have been responsible for most of their losses. In addition to poaching, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife kills wolves for conflicts with livestock. Ranch hands have killed wolves spotted near livestock, and hikers and hunters have shot wolves in so-called “self-defense,” even though wolves are notoriously shy and unlikely to attack people.
Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. Since the early 2000s, the animals started to make a slow comeback by dispersing into Washington from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia.