Conservation and animal-protection groups are offering an increased reward of $51,400 for information leading to a conviction in the illegal poisoning deaths of six wolves in northeastern Washington earlier this year.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff initially found four dead wolves on Feb. 18. During searches of the area in the following month two more deaths were discovered. The department updated its report last week by including these two additional deaths and confirming that all six wolves died from ingesting poison.
The six wolf mortalities were within the Wedge pack territory in Stevens County. WDFW Police began the investigation in February, and it is ongoing.
The $51,400 reward is being offered in part by the Center for Biological Diversity, Kettle Range Conservation Group, Northwest Animal Rights Network, Predator Defense, Speak for Wolves, Washington Wildlife First and Western Watersheds Project.
Anyone who might have information regarding the incident can report it confidentially by calling the department’s poaching hotline at (877) 933-9847, visiting the department’s website and reporting a violation, or texting WDFWTIP to 847411.
“Washington wolves are being attacked on all sides, and the state needs to pull out the stops to find these poachers and make sure they can’t kill again,” said Sophia Ressler, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s devastating that even more wolves are dead. We need to send a clear message that this is unacceptable and there are serious consequences for illegal poisonings.”
“This has been a devastating year for Washington’s wolf population,” said Samantha Bruegger, executive director of Washington Wildlife First. “Wolves have experienced poaching, kill-orders and multiple caught-in-the-act shootings. We should be leading the country in wolf conservation. Instead we are getting closer and closer by the day to following Idaho’s horrific wolf policies.”
Gray wolves are listed as endangered under state law throughout Washington. In the western two-thirds of the state, they are also listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Under state law, the illegal killing of a wolf or other endangered fish or wildlife species is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
The year-end minimum population count for 2021 was at least 206 known wolves in 33 known packs including at least 19 breeding pairs. Annual wolf population surveys are conducted in the winter because wolf populations experience the least amount of natural fluctuation during this time. Counting the population at the end of each year allows for comparable year-to-year trends at a time of year when the wolf population is most stable. The year-end minimum population count for 2022 will be released in April 2023.
Wolf poisoning has also been an issue in northeast Oregon.
On February 9, 2021, Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division Troopers received information from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding a possibly deceased, collared wolf. Troopers responded to the area and located five deceased wolves, three males, and two females. It was later determined the wolves were from the Catherine Pack, with all known members present and deceased.
The five wolves and magpie were collected and transported to the US Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab located in Ashland, Oregon to determine the cause of death.
On March 11, 2021, Fish and Wildlife Troopers again received information from ODFW personnel of an additional wolf collar emitting a mortality signal in the same general location. A search of the area located a deceased female wolf, a skunk, and a magpie all very close to the scene. All animals were collected and immediately submitted to the USFWS lab for testing. The female wolf was dispersing from the Keating Pack.
In April 2021, the USFWS submitted their examination reports with findings consistent with poisoning as the cause of death for all six wolves, the skunk, and two magpies. Lab results also indicated the suspected evidence confirmed a poisonous substance.
In addition, two more collared wolves were found deceased in Union County after the initial incidents. In April 2021, a deceased adult male wolf from the Five Points Pack was located west of Elgin and in July 2021, a young female wolf from the Clark Creek Pack was located northeast of La Grande.
In both cases the cause of death was not readily apparent, a necropsy and testing were conducted. Toxicology reports confirmed the presence of differing types of poison in both wolves. Based upon the type of poison and locations, it was determined the death of the young female wolf may be related to the earlier six poisonings.
So far, $26,000 in combined rewards for information about the Oregon wolf poisonings are being offered by the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Defenders of Wildlife, The Humane Society of the United States, Northeast Oregon Ecosystems, Oregon Wild, Predator Defense and WildEarth Guardians.