The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is investigating the deaths of six gray wolves within the Wedge pack territory in Stevens County. Four of the animals were found dead in late February, with two more deaths confirmed after searches of the area.
“Toxicology results revealed all six wolves died from ingesting poison,” the wildlife department said in an alert Monday.
Conservation and wildlife organizations are offering rewards totaling $51,400 for information that would lead to the conviction of those responsible for the poisonings.
“This is a tragic, unnecessary loss to our state’s endangered wolf population,” Zoe Hanley, a wolf biologist with Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement Monday. “This cowardly act flies in the face of committed efforts from biologists, policymakers and ranchers working to recover and coexist with wolves in Washington.”
Defenders of Wildlife contributed a $2,500 reward for information.
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Gray wolves have been listed as endangered throughout Washington since 1980, with state law protecting the animals from hunting, malicious harassment, possession and killing. In the western two-thirds of the state, gray wolves are also federally endangered.
Killing a wolf or another endangered species is a gross misdemeanor under Washington law, the wildlife department notes, “punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.”
As of the end of 2021, there were at least 206 known wolves in 33 known packs throughout Washington state, the department said.
On a national level, as of a court order in February, gray wolves in much of the continuous 48 states and Mexico (excluding the Northern Rocky Mountain population) are protected under the Endangered Species Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
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Also on Monday, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed a lethal removal of one wolf in Stevens County, but from the Leadpoint pack territory. Department director Kelly Susewind authorized the killing Sunday after attacks on cattle in private grazing lands.
State wildlife officials have been authorized to kill a small number of gray wolves in recent years because of similar threats on nearby livestock, which wildlife officials say is consistent with state guidance – including the lethal removals of one to two wolves from the Wedge pack in August 2020.