- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2016

REPUBLIC, Wash. (AP) - State wildlife officials in helicopters have shot and killed two gray wolves in northeastern Washington, and plan on removing more of the animals.

Two adult female wolves, including this year’s breeding female, that roam Ferry County were killed on Aug. 5, the Department of Fish and Wildlife said in an email Thursday afternoon. The wolf-removal efforts are continuing but the agency is not releasing details as a safety precaution.

This is the third time the state has killed wolves since they began recolonizing Washington on their own a decade ago.

The predators are making a comeback with 19 known packs, most concentrated in northeastern Washington. Federal protection was removed for wolves in the eastern one-third of the state, but the animals remain an endangered species across the state under state law.

The state’s wolf management plan - which attempts to balance wolf recovery while managing wolf conflicts with people, livestock and wildlife - allows the removal of wolves under certain conditions.

Last week, Department Director Jim Unsworth authorized killing some members of the Profanity Peak pack after staff confirmed five livestock attacks by the wolves this year. The agency said at the time that preventative measures, such as removing carcasses or increasing human presence, did not stop livestock from being attacked, and that such attacks would continue if the animals aren’t removed.

On Thursday Donny Martorello, the department’s wolf-policy leader, said in an email that officials were not targeting breeding animals but there is no way to identify them during the operation. Removing the breeding female, he said, is unlikely to impact the survival of pups, which are weaned.

He said livestock producers continue to use range riders to help prevent livestock attack, and no attacks have been reported since state removal efforts began.

While some criticized the killing, others said removing wolves that habitually attack livestock is needed to support the co-existence between people, livestock and wolves.

“We don’t support the killing of public wildlife on public land,” said Amaroq Weiss with the Center for Biological Diversity. She said the state’s protocol for killing wolves isn’t based on science and that killing a breeding female could cause the pack to split or prompt more conflicts.

Conservation Northwest, which is part of the state’s wolf advisory group, said in a statement that while it’s difficult to see wolves killed, the removals are part of the state’s wolf management plan.

“This fact of responsible wolf recovery can be heartrending, but it won’t stop wolves from flourishing in our region over the long run if removals are done with care and restraint,” said the group.

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