26 of 30 wolves killed in Washington since 2012 were killed to protect just one ranch
OLYMPIA, Washington––Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?
Not many people, actually. Twenty-six of the 30 wolves who have been killed in Washington state since 2012 for alleged livestock predation have reportedly been killed in response to complaints from just three people: Diamond M Ranch owners Len McIrvin, his son Bill McIrvin, and his nephew Justin Hedrick.
The Diamond M Ranch, along with a border crossing into British Columbia, are the chief businesses of Laurier, Washington, a “U.S. Census-designated place” rather than a town, in northern Ferry County, with an official human population of one.
Tail that wags the dog
But McIrvin family has long appeared to be the tail that wags the dog on wolf policy, staunchly backed by Washington seventh legislative district state representative Joel Kretz.
Kretz, a far right Republican, appears to have been best known, before he was elected to the statehouse in 2005, for puma hunting and trying to poke loopholes through Washington state law discouraging puma hunting with hounds. As deputy minority leader of the Washington State House of Representatives, Kretz notoriously steered state funding to help the annual Omak Stampede rodeo, including the Omak Suicide Race.
Jay Inslee, elected governor of Washington in 2012, has throughout his tenure appeared to be afraid of the big, bad Kretz and Diamond M influence in the politically conservative eastern half of the state.
But maybe no longer?
But Kretz is no longer deputy minority leader in the Washington house. The threat that U.S. President Donald Trump might soon be impeached may jeopardize Kretz’s reputed political allies in the White House and Department of the Interior.
Inslee is running for re-election as governor, after abandoning an eight-month bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Inslee is also in the midst of a political fight over his having redirected $175 million from highway rebuilding to improving culverts to help salmon runs.
And Inslee on September 30, 2019 asked Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife director Kelly Susewind to “make changes in the gray wolf recovery program to further increase reliance on non-lethal methods, and to significantly reduce the need for lethal removal of this species.”
Wrote Inslee in an open letter distributed to media, “I understand that conflicts between wolves and livestock do occur, especially as the state’s wolf population continues to grow.”
That was no news, though, to anyone who has been paying attention.
Inslee next credited the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, “working with the Wolf Advisory Group, livestock producers, hunters, conservation groups and others,” with having “made significant progress in securing both gray wolf recovery and increasing the social tolerance of wolves on the Washington state landscape.”
Then, though, Inslee directly challenged the McIrvin/Kretz alliance.
“As you know, wolves were extirpated in the state by the 1930s on behalf of livestock interests,” Inslee reminded Susewind.
Wolves “started migrating back to the state in 2008 from surrounding areas,” Inslee recited. “Most of the wolves live in the northeastern corner of the state and their territories have high overlap with federal public lands. For reasons that are not entirely clear, numerous conflicts with livestock producers have occurred in a handful of federal grazing allotments. Chronic livestock depredations and annual lethal removal of wolves in the Kettle River Range in Ferry County have resulted in public concern and outrage over lethal management actions taken by the department.
“I share the public’s concern”
“I share the public’s concern,” Inslee said. “I believe we cannot continue using the same management approach on this particular landscape. The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable.”
Inslee asked Susewind to accelerate an ongoing “update to the lethal management guidelines, with the goal of significantly reducing the role of lethal removal in the wolf management program.
“In addition,” Inslee asked, “please consider what opportunities exist to work with the U.S. Forest Service and other public land managers to make changes that would reduce the conflicts, including changes in allotment policies for public lands that are prime wolf habitat, the addition of more intensive range riding, and other proven or promising methods.”
Translation: Inslee might favor cancellation of the U.S. Forest Service grazing leases that the McIrvin family has held since 1943.
Predator Defense withdraws from coalition
Inslee finally stood up to the McIrvin family and Kretz just as Predator Defense executive director Brooks Fahy drafted an October 1, 2019 letter of resignation from the Pacific Wolf Coalition, a 37-member alliance of nonprofit organizations that has since 2012 at least nominally represented the interests of wolves, wildlife in general, and the natural environment in negotiations with state and federal government agencies.
“Wolves have been welcomed home to Washington state to be slaughtered,” Fahey charged. “Yet year after year this ‘wolf coalition’ has remained effectively silent about the senseless killing of wolves in its own back yard. It was also silent about the destruction of the career of one of North America’s preeminent carnivore ecologists, Robert Wielgus, Ph.D., whose years of research showed that wolf-livestock conflicts in NE Washington State were predictable and avoidable and that the wolves were set up for slaughter by the primary rancher involved,” Len McIrvin.
Wielgus, longtime director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University, lost his job after conflicting with McIrvin and Kretz. Wielgus in May 2017 reportedly received $300,000 to settle a lawsuit he filed against Washington State University with the assistance of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
“The coalition’s silence about these atrocities long ago became unconscionable complicity,” Fahey continued. “Silence—about the slaughter of the [eight] Old Profanity Territory wolves [earlier in 2019] and kill orders for the ‘incremental removal’ of the Togo and Grouse Flats wolves—was the last straw.
“If the coalition as a whole was acknowledging the feelings of many of its member organizations—in addition to public sentiment, common sense, and the best available science,” Fahey said, “they would take a stand for wolves that reflects the following realities: the majority of the public is already against wolves being killed; science shows killing wolves is counterproductive ; wolves are ecologically invaluable on our landscape; cattle grazing should not receive priority over wolves on public lands; there are places that cows simply do not belong; [and] wolves deserve places to live in peace.”
Center for Biological Diversity petitioned Inslee to act
Another Pacific Wolf Coalition member, the Center for Biological Diversity, on June 24, 2019 sent Inslee an online petition bearing 532,836 signatures asking him to do essentially what he finally did do on October 1, 2019.
The Center for Biological Diversity also asked Inslee to “officially oppose the Trump administration plan to strip nearly all gray wolves of their federal Endangered Species Act protection.
“This spring,” the Center for Biological Diversity explained, “Washington’s fish and wildlife department sent a letter of support to the Trump administration for its pending proposal to strip wolves of federal protection across nearly the entire lower 48 states, including parts of Washington where wolves are still federally protected. An expert panel of scientists roundly criticized the plan as not based on the best available science. Both California and Oregon oppose the federal delisting proposal.”
The Pacific Wolf Coalition
The 36 remaining Pacific Wolf Coalition members include as “supporting organizations” the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation; Training Resources for the Environmental Community; and the Wilburforce Foundation.
National and multi-state regional members include Cascadia Wildlands; Center for Biological Diversity; Defenders of Wildlife; Earthjustice; the Endangered Species Coalition; the Humane Society of the United States; Living With Wolves; National Parks Conservation Association; thenNatural Resources Defense Council; Western Environmental Law Center; Western Watersheds Project; WildEarth Guardians; and the Wildlands Network.
California members are the California Wolf Center; Environmental Protection Information Center; Klamath Forest Alliance; Mountain Lion Foundation; Project Coyote; and Sierra Club California.
Oregon members include Bark; Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project; Forest Web of Cottage Grove; Greater Hells Canyon Council; Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center; Northeast Oregon Ecosystems; Oregon Chapter Sierra Club; and Oregon Wild.
Washington members include the Cascade Forest Conservancy; Conservation Northwest;
Kettle Range Conservation Group; The Lands Council; Washington Chapter Sierra Club; Western Wildlife Outreach; and Wolf Haven International.