Quiet Continues With Smackout Pack; 2016 Profanity Removals Subject Of Story

Things remain quiet with the Smackout Pack — not so with wolves elsewhere in Washington.

In its weekly update, WDFW said there still have been no more reported cattle depredations since the one on July 22 while the operation to remove two wolves to head off more was ongoing.

It ended July 30 and state wolf managers continue to evaluate the pack’s response, as three producers continue their deterrence efforts as well.

DR. ROBERT WIELGUS. (WSU)

Meanwhile, digging through the charred landscape of the mountain range to the west, emails between various officials, old stories and fresh interviews, a major Seattle Times reporting and graphics package out today puts the focus back on last summer’s lethal removals of Profanity Peak Pack wolves.

Lynda V. Mapes’ piece addresses the firestorm surrounding a Washington State University professor’s quoted claim that a local rancher “elected to put his livestock directly on top of their den site … I just want people to know,” as well as the bare-knuckle, behind-the-scenes wrangling between university officials and state lawmakers over his research over the years.

It also reveals some new details about what went on last summer.

Basically, after 2015’s Stickpin Fire, the Profanity Peak Pack moved its den unbeknownst to WDFW or the Diamond M, which turned their cattle out to graze about 5 miles away on June 9, 2016.

The den also ended up being roughly a quarter mile from where a salt lick was put annually to help draw the McIrvins’ herd further up the mountain each grazing season.

It wasn’t until late in the month that the state and the McIrvins separately reached the conclusion from radio-collar data and on-the-ground observations that the pack was using the traditional grazing grounds as well.

Under the right conditions, cattle and wolves mixing is not automatically a recipe for depredations, but they began here July 8 and eventually totaled 15 confirmed and probable attacks.

WDFW’s lethal removals began Aug. 3, paused Aug. 18, and began again Aug. 19. Eventually seven were killed.

Professor Robert Wielgus’s inflammatory claim, which came Aug. 25 in the Times, was gas to the fire, and less than a week later, WSU issued a stunning press release addressing it and other matters.

It said in part: “In fact, the rancher identified in the article did not intentionally place livestock at or near the den site of the Profanity Peak wolf pack, and Dr. Wielgus subsequently acknowledged that he had no basis in fact for making such a statement.”

There can be little doubt about the first part of that statement, and a subsequent quote from Wielgus about Bill McIrvin — “go ahead and quote me: ‘Wherever McIrvin grazes … dead wolves follow.’ Quote me. He’ll be proud of it!” — suggests he bears a real grudge against them.

But according to Mapes’ article today, the WSU press release “disavowing his statements was never shown to him, Wielgus said, and misconstrued a short conversation by phone between him and [Ron] Mittelhammer [the dean of the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences].”

Mapes reports that while Wielgus is now tenured, he doesn’t want to continue working at WSU, where he heads up the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab.

He says the university “called me a liar and ruined my career,” according to the reporter.

Another way to look at the Times’ piece is that “It corroborates the version of the Profanity timeline we’ve been working off since the incident began,” says Chase Gunnell of Conservation Northwest.

“We hope readers accept that no one deliberately dropped livestock near a wolf den,” he said.

The organization and others on the Wolf Advisory Group stood by WDFW last summer despite high — and lingering — heat from wolf fanatics.

Certainly the Times has every right to explore the circumstances of last summer and Wielgus’s story, but others actively involved in Washington’s wolf world have since moved on.

“Instead of continuing to debate the who-knew-what-when of last year’s conflict, stakeholders should be looking ahead to reduce future conflicts, and to advance responsible wolf conservation and management alongside rural communities and healthy populations of other wildlife,” says Gunnell.

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