- Associated Press - Thursday, July 20, 2017

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - The state plans to kill some animals in a wolf pack, which has repeatedly preyed on livestock in Stevens County, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said Thursday.

The wolves, known as the Smackout pack, has preyed on livestock four times since September.

“The purpose of this action is to change the pack’s behavior,” said Donny Martorello, a wolf manager for the agency. “That means incrementally removing wolves and assessing the results before taking any further action.”

The Smackout pack is one of 20 wolf packs, all in Eastern Washington, documented in Washington state in 2016. At that time, the pack was estimated to consist of eight wolves, but it has since produced an unknown number of pups. The pack roams an area near the Canadian border north of Spokane.

Wolves were wiped out in Washington early in the last century, but begin moving back into the state from Idaho and Canada earlier this century.

The state is now home to at least 115 wolves, growing at a rate of 30 percent per year, and there have been conflicts between wolves and ranchers that prompted the state to kill numerous problems wolves in recent years.

Jim Unsworth, director of Fish and Wildlife, authorized the lethal action against the Smackout pack.

The department in June adopted a policy of removing wolves that prey on livestock three times in a 30-day period or four times in a 10-month period, Martorello said.

The Smackout pack’s latest depredation against cattle was discovered July 18.

In June, a ranch employee caught two wolves in the act of attacking livestock and killed one of them, the agency said.

“This rancher has made concerted efforts to protect his livestock using non-lethal measures,” Martorello said. “Our goal is to change the pack’s behavior before the situation gets worse.”

Gray wolves have been removed from federal Endangered Species Act protections in the eastern third of the state, although they remain protected under state law.

Chase Gunnell, a spokesman for Conservation Northwest, called the decision to kill several wolves “heartrending,” but said it may prevent the entire pack from being wiped out.

“We see this is a test of the theory that early lethal intervention can disrupt depredating behavior,” Gunnell said.

He said it was clear, based on information from the agency, that the ranchers involved in this case have taken steps to avoid conflicts with wolves.

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