Washington wildlife managers say they’re investigating the deaths of a number of wolves in the northeastern corner of the state.
“The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is aware of and actively investigating dead wolves found in Stevens County,” said agency wolf policy lead Julia Smith in a midafternoon statement.
Where, when, how many, what from and other details were not being released.
“Because this incident is under active investigation by law enforcement, no further information is being provided at this time,” Smith stated.
Wolf packs that roam this county include, from north to south, Wedge, Leadpoint, Onion Creek, Smackout, Dominion, Dirty Shirt, Stranger and Huckleberry.
Whether it’s related to this current case or not, during the May 13 meeting of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, member Lorna Smith of Port Townsend claimed that Stevens County Sheriff’s Office personnel had been “letting the story out, shall we say, about wolves that were poached, I think it was back in January.”
Her comments came as she and Commissioner Melanie Rowland tried to convince fellow members to pass binding, litigable rules around managing wolf-livestock conflicts, including lethal removals, but others seemed to feel that flexibility was still needed.
At the time it wasn’t clear if she actually meant in Northeast Oregon, where eight wolves were poisoned in 2021.
Indeed, WDFW’s latest monthly wolf report, for April, states that the agency has documented only one mortality so far in 2022, a 13-year-old female from the Skookum Pack of Pend Oreille County that died of natural causes in March.
Perhaps because of game wardens’ investigation, other incidents Smith apparently is referring to haven’t been publicized, but over the years a number of wolves have indeed been poached in Washington’s northeastern corner, where much of the state’s Canis lupus population resides, including the breeding female of the Wedge Pack, shot late last May near Sheep Creek in far northern Stevens County.
In 2018, a Pend Oreille County man was ordered to pay $8,000 in restitution to WDFW after pleading guilty to trapping and killing two wolves in 2016. And of course the beginning of wolf recolonization in Washington in 2008 was followed closely by the illegal killing of wolves in the Evergreen State, in this case in the Methow Valley.
While wolves are federally delisted in the eastern third of Washington – and were off the ESA list statewide for over a year before a judge put those in the western two-thirds back on it in February – they remain a state endangered species and the penalty for illegally killing one is up to $5,000 and/or 12 months in prison, according to WDFW.
The agency is asking anyone with information about the death or harassment of the species to call the Enforcement Division hotline (877-933-9847).