Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Thoughts on a Wolf Execution

[Please be sure to read the two comments from Amaroq Weiss. Just click on "comments" at end of post. She adds so much insight.]

On September 2, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sharpshooter executed the black alpha male of the Togo wolf pack. Though the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands had requested an injunction to block the killing, a Thurston County Superior Court Judge said the two groups had not met the legal standard needed for the injunction. WDFW reported on their website that their director, Kelly Susewind, welcomed the judge’s decision to deny the injunction. At 5 p.m. on August 31, the alpha male’s stay of execution was lifted. The GPS collar he wore would make the killing easier.

HTML5 Audio PlayerThis wolf’s death is most likely the beginning of the end for the Togo pack. This wolf’s death also exemplifies why livestock should not be grazed on public land.

The first two attacks WDFW attributed to the Togo pack were on calves and occurred on fenced private land where the rancher used nonlethal deterrents. After those two attacks the rancher continued using multiple nonlethal deterrents and the attacks stopped. But nonlethal deterrents did not work as well on the public land where the next four attacks occurred. Investigators stated that the nonlethal deterrents used by one rancher on public land were not adequate. In other instances, the areas where attacks occurred were so remote and so rugged that only range riders might be effective.

WDFW officials investigated each of the six attacks. I’ve read their reports. In only one attack was there an eye witness; a woodcutter saw a black wolf running from an area where an injured calf was later found. The WDFW report does not say the black wolf was collared. However, since all six attacks occurred in the Togo wolf pack’s territory, WDFW used that circumstantial evidence to convict the pack.

The alpha male of the Togo pack was shot and wounded on August 23 by a rancher. He said he was checking out his cattle when he saw wolf pups and heard barking and growling. As a black wolf approached, he claims that he shot it in self-defense. Most newspaper reports I read tell only the rancher’s side of this story. But the Seattle Times quotes WDFW as saying, “Vocalizations by wolves are not uncommon when people approach wolf pups, and adult wolves often attempt to escort perceived intruders away from areas where pups are present. While these behaviors are not necessarily predatory in nature, they can feel threatening.”

A few days later, after the judge lifted the restraining order, the now wounded wolf was sentenced to death for the six attacks on livestock. Running on a broken leg, his collar revealing his location, he was gunned down by that sharpshooter in a helicopter.

WDFW trail cam photo
While WDFW says they took out the alpha male to see if they could stop the pack from attacking livestock, in reality killing the wolf could produce the opposite result. The alpha female is now the sole provider for herself and two pups. That’s a very demanding job, and she may end up killing a calf on public land—easy prey—to keep her offspring alive. If she does, she too may be executed. If the pups are not killed with her, they will be left to survive on their own. Taking calves on public land may then be essential for them to beat starvation. Of course, it will also sentence them to die.

Wolves have every right to live on public land. They were here, after all, well before this continent was settled. And they have no other place to live. But public lands available to wolves are diminishing and increasingly encroached upon by human uses including livestock grazing. Wolves have only a tiny fraction of their original range and original population left.

Cattle, on the other hand, can—and should—live on private land. Their grazing on public land is driven by economics. The cost of public land grazing is much less than the cost of private land grazing. We the people subsidize increased profits for ranchers at the expense of wolves.

Wolves do not take livestock to spite or injure a rancher. A wolf taking a calf or cow on public land is driven by an instinct to survive. The loss of some livestock to wolves should be considered a cost of doing business for a rancher who benefits from subsidized public land grazing. And that cost of doing business can even be decreased because a rancher can be reimbursed for a confirmed loss to wolves. All six attacks attributed to the Togo pack were confirmed as wolf kills by WDFW.

In an attempt to coexist with wolves, the loss of livestock on public land should NOT be considered a strike against wolves under the Washington wolf management plan, or under any state’s plan. If this were the case, the Togo pack would only have two strikes against them—the two attacks on private land—instead of six. The pack would be far from meeting the standard for issuing a kill order. The alpha male would still be alive and helping the female feed the pack.

If a rancher is not willing to coexist with wolves on public land—to accept possible livestock losses for which he can be reimbursed—the rancher should keep his cattle on fenced private land protected by a number of nonlethal deterrents.

An alternative approach—and the one I prefer—is to keep all livestock off of all public land.

1. Support the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands, currently suing the state of Washington over its lethal removal policy.
2. Read the WDFW reports.

My award-winning Deep into Yellowstone can be ordered signed from me or unsigned on Amazon.

My best selling In the Temple of Wolves can be ordered signed from me or unsigned on Amazon

My forthcoming book,
The Wilds of Aging: A Journey of Heart and Mind 
can be reserved


  1. Rick -- thank you so much for sharing these insights with your followers and for your support of our efforts to get WDFW to follow the science and the law and to stop using social compromises as justification to kill wolves. I also wanted to mention that, despite the reports provided by WDFW of what was/was not done as far as nonlethal measures in each instance where a livestock predation was attributed to the Togo pack, a careful analysis reveals smoke and mirrors. In instances where the reports said no unnatural attractants were present, there were multiple instances of injured calves or dead cows that had not been removed yet clearly are attractants to wolves and any predator -- one calf was found with two "weeping wounds" on its back the rancher had discovered in June yet the calf was still out on the range with those wounds in November; in another instance an injured calf was found with wounds already scabbing over, so no one had been keeping an eye on the cattle to discover the animal while its wounds were fresh; in another instance there was the stench of a dead cow for days that range riders could not locate the source of until days later and obviously if humans could smell the stench, so could predators. The fact these injured or dead animals weren't discovered right away indicates that any range riders present weren't doing an effective job of monitoring the cattle and in one instance an injured calf could not be found for days even though it was within a fenced pasture. In one instance, one predation was found "miles away from where the cattle were supposed to be." So, in reality -- who is watching over these cattle and why don't they know where they are? The evidence suggests range riding was not being done effectively and therefore should not have counted as a deterrent measure. The evidence also suggests that the rugged terrain and dense forests of this region --with many downed trees where cattle can become trapped and where it is dangerous to take a horse into and impossible to drive an ATV in -- is indefensible terrain and the state should not be killing wolves for livestock losses here. Particularly not when you add in the fact that most of the predations were on public lands grazing allotments. I have a few more comments but need to put it into a separate comment or I will exceed the character limit.

  2. Continuing on where I left off:
    As for the rancher who shot at the wolf, he knew exactly where to go to find the wolf because the week prior, on two separate dates WDFW told the rancher where the wolves' rendezvous site was and gave him access to the wolfs' gps collar data. Evidently WDFW didn't bother (or did it?) to tell the rancher that when approached at rendezvous sites, wolves will give off a bawling type of bark which is an expression of their alarm that their pups might be in danger. WDFW well knew it should have advised the rancher on this aspect of wolf behavior since WDFW had just gone through the ringer over the recent incident of a grad student doing Forest Service stream surveys happening into an area near a wolf pack's rendezvous site, hearing their barks and yips for 1.2 an hour and not knowing they were asking her to leave. Additionally, reports are that when the rancher shot at the Togo male, he broke the animal's hind leg. That suggests the shooting was done with a varmint-killing kind of rifle, not a shotgun, which is what you might take with you if you were simply intending to haze a wolf away from an area by shooting up in the air. During the court hearing last Friday, in response to the judge's question of whether the severe injury to the wolf had changed the circumstances, WDFW told the judge that the injury meant the wolf was not a factor/threat to livestock at this time. WDFW also told the judge that if WDFW kills the male wolf, his mate may likely hunt livestock to feed her young, since livestock are easier prey to hunt than wild game, if you are a wolf hunting on your own. So if WDFW's purported reason in killing wolves is to change the behavior of the remaining pack members, why kill a wolf when you admit your actions may instead create a greater risk the remaining pack member(s) will predate on livestock? The Togo pack hasn't gotten a fair shake from the start, the execution of the male is tragic and senseless, and the fate which awaits his mate and pups may be just as senseless, predictable, avoidable and tragic.

  3. sad war----old primitive war wolf and farme--all wildlife shall stay here on planet----STOP all hunter on sweet good wolf-- there are food to all------ enclosure farm-animal withhawthornhedge some in africa so wildlife not can come in. no more hunt on wolf.

  4. End ALL grazing leases NOW. We pay lots of tax money to support OUR wildlife, (which belongs to ALL Americans as part of the Public Trust) on OUR wildlands.We pay the WDFW , the BLM and others to protect our Public Trust, and instead they sell us out for their rancher friends to make private profits. Compromise is the road to extinction and degradation.

  5. I have a slightly different view on things because unlike many I am the Vegan daughter of an Organic free range black Angus rancher. My parents have had 100 thousand acre rances in Oregon and Nevada so being me a person that feels bad for the cows as well as the wolves/cyoties/ and the ranchers I have a different view. First off factory farming/dairy production is cruel. Some of my best friends growing up were dairy farmers and I have visited factory farms. The cows are all sick, the dairy cows are raped with metal ramrods their utters are chapped and bloody and when they get them pregnant the calves are usually taken for veal. The mothers bawl for weeks when their calves are taken. Veal is horrible too. Calves are confined in tiny boxes unable to move till butchered. Free range farming on private and BLM land is the best and healthiest option for the cow and the human consuming it but then this is where we run into predatory animal problems. Here are the problems you run into with with wolves/cyoties. 1) It is impossible to keep track of 1000s of head of cattle on 1000s of acres of land. 2) If a wolf learns where easy food is the pack will keep coming back. 3) Many ranchers actually really care about their calves on a nurturing level and want to protect them it's not just about $$$$$. 4) Most ranchers dont want to kill wolves/coyotes and dont enjoy doing it. Its impossible on a big ranch to send guys out 24/7 with non lethal deterrents, the cost would be too high and the area of land being covered even on a smaller ranch would be impossible. It's easy to miss a dead calf on 1000s of acres even if routine checks are done, thus attracting predators. If a wolf pack gets an easy meal they will never leave no matter what you do. So this leaves killing or reporting them really the only options. If you kill one wolf or coyote and leave the body out for other wolves to smell they will stay away for years. These are smart creatures with bullet memories. Many ranchers resort to this and it's a minimal loss of lives on both the predators side and the prey. My parents and many ranchers get upset when their baby cows get ate. Wolf packs will sit and wait while the cow is giving birth to attack sometimes even eating the calf before it's even all the way born. The mother cow can do nothing. So the real moral of the story is..... this is the circle of life. Give and take. If you really care about wolves not getting shot for killing livestalk stop the need for all the livestock production. Less need for public lands so the the wolves can be safer and flourish. Next time your gonna order that steak stop and realize you are contributing to not only cows being harmed but also wolves and the environment. Or I guess enjoy your steak and let a wolf die every once in a while and the earth die.

  6. Thank you for your perspective.

  7. I’m with you, unknown. Stop consuming meat and all animal products.

  8. Ya, ranchers love their cows all the way to the slaughterhouse and bank. So they feel bad when wolves eat a cow, but not when a human devours one. Remove cows from public land. They belong on the rancher's property, not ours, yes, ours, the public. Wildlife belongs on public land, and should be the priority, not subdizing ranchers'paychecks.

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