Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Washington Outdoors Report

State officials aren't sharing


Four wolves were found dead in Stevens County this winter in Northeast Washington but officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are saying very little about the incident. The wolves were discovered by two Stevens County Sheriff’s Deputies on February 18th while they were patrolling the area of Churchill Mine Road a few miles south of the Canada border on snowmobiles. The deputies examined and photographed the animals and noted seeing no blood or bullet holes. They reported their findings to WDFW that day.

The wolves are part of the Wedge pack and roam a territory where wolves have attacked livestock in the past. These attacks have injured or killed cattle, primarily calves and have led to lethal wolf removals from WDFW, the latest removal occurring in 2020.

WDFW remained silent about these dead wolves until the end of May. In fact, the incident was not even mentioned in the latest monthly wolf update from the agency which incorrectly stated only one wolf was known to have been killed so far in 2022.

However, that changed May 26th when Eli Francovich, writing for the Spokesman Review, broke this story open after the Kettle Range Conservation Group issued a press release about the incident.

Chris Bachman, the Wildlife and Wildlands Director for the Kettle Range Conservation Group, stated, “WDFW is often criticized for its lack of transparency around wolf management. This is
simple opacity. Four gray wolves reported killed and three months have passed without any information related to this event being shared with the public.” Bachman went on to say, “I understand WDFW likely has an investigation ongoing, but why not engage the public and try to garner information? Three months have passed, what is happening to bring the perpetrators to justice?

Bachman believes the wolves were poisoned. He told me he came to this conclusion after an assessment of the case by several experts, including a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigator. An interview with Bachman about this incident is scheduled to air the weekend of June 11th and 12th on the Northwestern Outdoors Radio network.

WDFW did issue the following statement as this story came to light, “The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is aware of and actively investigating dead wolves found in Stevens County. Because this incident is under active investigation by law enforcement, no further information is being provided at this time. Please report any information about the death or harassment of wolves to the WDFW Enforcement Hotline at 1-877-933-9847.”

I contacted Julia Smith, the Wolf Policy Lead for WDFW, as to why information wasn’t released earlier. She defended the lack of transparency stating, “Often, in order to avoid jeopardizing an active investigation, information is not released in order to prevent evidence destruction, protect officer safety, and ensure a case isn't compromised. We want to collect enough information such that a solid case can be referred to a prosecutor. Without sufficient evidence, a conviction cannot be made.”

A similar case unfolded in 2021 in Northeast Oregon and Oregon State Police investigators, after several months, did announce a reward for information leading to a conviction in the case in the sum of $50,000 that was donated by various environmental and conservation organizations. I asked Smith why no similar rewards had been offered or pleas made to the public for help.

Smith replied, “Although we welcome and appreciate rewards being offered, offering a reward in itself isn’t a compelling reason to make an investigation public. I’ve spent almost a decade working on wolves, and I cannot provide a single example of a monetary award leading to the conviction of a wolf poacher. The cash reward in Oregon has not resulted in any arrests to date. Typically, we get to the stage of offering rewards for information when there are no avenues of investigation remaining for law enforcement.

From my experience, the only thing that leads to convictions is evidence, and the only thing that leads to evidence is a sound investigation. WDFW chose to withhold information in this case to put law enforcement in the best position possible to carry out their investigation. We all want to see poachers brought to justice.”


On a lighter note, June 11th and 12th are free fishing days in Washington, where no license is required to fish or harvest shellfish though all other rules apply. June 11th is also National Outdoors Day and no entry fee or user pass is required to park at developed National Forest or BLM sites or to enter State Parks, Department of Natural Resources Sites or state Fish and Wildlife Areas for the day. Camping fees are still required for overnight stays.

John Kruse – and


Wolves, The Washington Outdoors Report, State Officials, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Stevens County


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