Killing wolves on public lands is no longer acceptable
The recent decision by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to kill members of the Profanity wolf pack because they have killed a few cattle grazing public lands in NE Washington is more than sad. That any wolves are killed merely to benefit the profit margin of private businesses utilizing public resources is an outrage. The real tragedy is that this slaughter of wild predators is repeated over and over throughout the West is reprehensible.
Keep in mind that alien domestic livestock have been imposed upon our wildlife. The real crime is that these wolves will be killed to benefit the bottom line of ranchers grazing livestock on public lands. Shouldn’t a prerequisite for ranchers getting subsidized forage on public lands be the minimum requirement that they must accept any losses to predators? If they don’t want such losses, they can take their cattle and sheep home.
Rather than killing wolves for doing what wolves do—preying on large ungulates—we should be eliminating the source of the problem whenever there is a conflict—that is removing livestock.
If you leave your cooler on the picnic table in Yellowstone, or food accessible to wildlife in many backcountry areas, you can be fined for potentially introducing wild animals to human food sources.
Yet we allow ranchers to place four-legged picnic baskets across our public lands—typically without any supervision. Worse, if these predators, whether bears, cougars, coyotes or wolves, have the audacity to snack on these movable food treats, we kill the predators instead of holding the ranches accountable.
Keep in mind that the mere presence of domestic livestock compromises the habitat quality for public wildlife, including wolves in many ways. For instance, when domestic animals are released on public lands, it socially displaces wild ungulates like elk. In other words, when ranchers place their private animals on the public land they are creating a natural conflict because wolves have fewer wild prey to hunt.
Wolves raising pups cannot merely move to other lands to find prey. So when elk and other prey are socially displaced, they often resort to the only other available food source—which can domestic livestock.
There is no free lunch (though admittedly public lands ranchers do pay almost nothing for the forage their cattle consume). When domestic animals consume grass and other plants on public lands there is that much less to support native grazers like elk and deer. Since the vast majority of forage on public is routinely allotted to domestic livestock, this reduces the overall carrying capacity of the land to support native ungulates.
Domestic livestock also can transmit diseases to wildlife that can reduce prey for predators as well. For instance, domestic sheep can transmit pneumonia and other diseases that can ravage wild herds, again reducing potential prey for predators like wolves.
In effect, domestic livestock are essentially appropriating and limiting the natural food of native prey that sustains wolves, bears, cougars and coyotes.
The idea that our public heritage and patrimony should continue to be sacrificed for the private profit of individuals is no longer acceptable. By not challenging this paradigm, we all perpetuate the continued slaughter of public wildlife at the behest of private businesses.
George Wuerthner is an ecologist, author of 38 books, and on the board of the Western Watersheds Project. He divides his time between Bend Oregon and Livingston Montana. 541-255-6039
George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology
48 Responses to Killing wolves on public lands is no longer acceptable
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How dare cattle ranchers feel that their live stock are superior to wolves. Keep the cattle on their property or live with the consequences. Humans are invading wildlife homes.
I agree. When ranchers use public lands the should have to sign a waiver that says wolf depredation is the rancher’s risk.
I have also come across dry water holes on both private and public that have dried up. The ranchers never checked on this and as much as 20 cattle died as a result. They just accept the loss.
Even with all the public grazing, depredation is irrelevant and insignificant. Wolves are always a problem before they are anything else, in the State’s eyes as well as their “customers” big hunting and big ag. This is an insured and subsidized industry, in addition,they are paid for losses. Enough is enough. I have sheep. I keep them safe. I keep them away from wild populations of native sheep. If I experience a loss, it’s my poor husbandry practices. The end.
God bless you and yours
Melissa, I wish all ranchers were as responsible and caring as you. I also wish our wildlife officials were as knowledgeable!
Thank you for your comment, Melissa Smith. To bad others with livestock don’t see things the way you do.
You are one example that should be followed but unfortunately aren’t. I’m convinced they just love to kill.
George, As you surely know, in Montana and Idaho (and formerly Wyoming), areas where wolves have been federally delisted just like northeast Washington, wolves and wolf packs that depredate on livestock are routinely lethally removed by hunters with legal tags and/or fish and wildlife agencies. Why are you making this stand now regarding NE Washington, and not “challenging this paradigm” in those other other states where this is a routine and mostly accepted practice? Wolves are recovered in both areas.
Also, contrary to your claim in this article, deer are browsers. In most (certainly not all) cases their food sources are distinct from those of grazing domestic livestock.
MTConservationist – you forgot about elk. Elk are grazers and the main ungulate in much of NE WA, ID, and MT. Cows directly compete with elk. Also, wolves are not recovered in an ecologically functional sense. Wolves may not be on the Endangered Species list (largely because of intense political pressure), but they are still functionally extinct (except perhaps in a few areas) in the lower 48 states. They have a long way to go to become a functional component of the ecosystems that they inhabit.
“Also, contrary to your claim in this article, deer are browsers. In most (certainly not all) cases their food sources are distinct from those of grazing domestic livestock”
Interesting that you should bring that up, MTC. Mule deer have been on my mind lately.
I’ve lived in a valley, in southwest Montana, for over 20 years and the Mule deer populations always seemed abundant, spring thru fall, they migrate in and out.
But, since beef prices went thru the roof, I’ve witnessed some disturbing changes in the landscape re: increase in cattle inventory.
The ranch adjoining my property, use to be owned by what you’d have to call a “gentleman rancher” For over 15 years, they raised little cattle, mostly horses.
I use to see a lot of Mulies (does and fawns, yearlings) come and go from their property and mine, on a regular basis.
Good size ranch, about 2-3 thousand acres, most of it under sagebrush (subsidies $$ for keeping it natural 🙂 except for a hay meadow w/creek frontage. Also had unlimited access to about 250 acres of BLM land (fences down) also bordered FS land.
The owners separated/divorced, moved off the ranch and started leasing the land to a local rancher. His cows started intensively grazing the sagebrush, last 5 – 6 years.
Then this ranch spends a few years on the real estate market and finally sold at auction.
Out of state owners not only kept the same lease with the local rancher but mowed down a sizable portion of sagebrush, for you guessed it… more area for cattle to graze.
This year? Not seeing any Mule deer to speak of.
Same local rancher this past spring, just up the road, leased another sizable chunk of sagebrush (private) land, next to their calving area, so their additional cows could “spread out” be fed and calve, in what use to be s sagebrush area, where Mule deer use to frequent when they migrated back to this area in the spring.
See a pattern here?
Oh and FYI – Same ranch had WS hunt down (planes in the sky for a couple of weeks last April) to kill a couple of wolves, who may of (or may not of?) taken advantage of increasingly, lax, calving practices?
A century of livestock grazing (in my area alone) should be a concern simply because its probably taking that long for anyone – not swayed/paid by livestock interests – to have a voice about public lands and wildlife, still trying to exist in the patchwork.
“For example, mule deer have been discovered to shift their habitat use in response to livestock grazing (Lott, et al. 1991”
Government agencies have provided “special privileges” to ranchers and hunters for far too long. Allowing grazing on public land and hunting in National Parks and wildlife preserves are activities that are actually contradictions to their stated missions and the public trust. Certainly, neither activity protects and enhances habitat and necessary eco-systems. It is time to forcefully remind the Interior Department to state fish and wildlife departments who they are really accountable to. Get the ranchers off public land, allow natural systems to create healthy Eco-systems, and provide many of us with the absolute happiness of observing it all. Save the wolves, bears, and cats…..
The livestock is only on the public land during the rich months of spring and fall then they are removed to slaughter. The wild ungulates are then left to survive winter on a landscape that is in decline incrementally every year as time goes on. We all know the story of what happened in Yellowstone when wolves returned and the positive effects cascaded throughout the ecosystem. What does this tell us about what happens outside the park boundaries where the sacred cows out number elk by 16 to 1? Isn’t it amazing with that ratio that so few cattle are killed by wolves. We have only begun to know how to use nonlethal deterrents. In time we will learn more. If we understand that wolves will also learn from nonlethal deterrents and that maybe we need to be patient they will learn and pass it from generation to generation then we can succeed. If we think killing is a learning experience for wolves we will never learn. Many allotments in the West are so inappropriate for livestock that the livestock is spread over great tracts of public lands and it is not remotely possible to manage them.
I meant spring and summer.
From summer through about mid autumn is a tougher time for wolves as they must feed pups, plus it’s more difficult to catch young deer and elk, so what’s remaining but dull, fat, slow livestock.
In the evolutionary perspective, if not for wolves and other fleet of foot predators, all we would most probably have on our native landscapes are cow like creatures.
In the Southern US, where Mexican wolves could roam, livestock occupy grazing allotments all year. In cow/calf operations, the cows never go to slaughter until they grow old and stop producing calves. The calves are sold each year to feed lots to fatten more and only then are they sold to be slaughtered. There are 90,000 elk in New Mexico alone, but hunters are loathe to allow even 100 wolves. The livestock associations will be happy only with zero.
Lots of talk bemoaning the upcoming deaths of wolves due to their killing of cattle. Talk is cheap. What are you/we going to do to curtail it? The bottom line is that every state where wolves are, when they harass livestock, the wolves will pay the ultimate price. So until the cows and sheep are gone, this scenario will represent “management.” I challenge the readers of this blog to call/write to USFS/BLM/Congressional representatives about increasing federal grazing fees to appropriate levels, in hopes that higher costs may influence some livestock producers to give it up and relieve the wildlife, specifically wolves, on public land from this continual threat.
It’s up to ranchers to safeguard their own livestock and ranch RESPONSIBLY.
When wolves are left alone and their packs allowed to remain intact, they hunt elk, deer, bison and other wildlife, which is their preferred diet. Killing members of their pack disrupts their complex social communities and forces them to go for easier prey. It’s wolf biology 101; I just wish the State cared enough to either know or honor the science. I guess wolves don’t engage in payoffs as often as ranchers do.
Typically with supervision? I’m a back country hiker and have NEVER in 25 years seen any cattle on public lands supervised! I hate hiking deep into the woods to find cow poop in remote places, cows standing in stinking water and making mud of beautiful streams and small lakes, wandering around rare pristine flower meadows so fat they can’t walk or lost and skinny or even dead. I’m tired of camping and hearing them moo all night! I’m tired of reading judges allow ranchers favor in renting land at 1/3 the price of an acre a wildlife flower company pays, and ranchers fighting to say it’s their land because they have been renting it longer. I’m tired of politicians not listening to the rest of us! Please raise cows on your own private land!
Thank you. We have our own local Cliven Bundys in Washington state and we’re all subsidizing them, but we don’t share in their profits, do we?
Well written article. Sadly, one of the females killed was the breeding female. Wolves are doing nothing wrong. They are going after animals that are easy to kill and we are killing wolves for being wolves? Disgusting and sickening. Remove the livestock, not the wolves. Just for those that don’t know, WDFW has killed 2 female wolves so far and one of them was the breeding female of the pack.
Why does one ranch owner have so much influence over a State F&W department? It’s the same ranch for at least one other aerial shooting – the same ranch that decreed that the Wedge pack be taken out. What is wrong with this picture?
Everything is wrong with it. I heard Donny Martorelli promise it wouldn’t happen again like it happened then, but it is happening right now.
I wonder the same thing, and Len McIrvin of the Diamond M Ranch is a negligent rancher who has publicly voiced his desire to see all wolves wiped out. How on earth does he exert so much influence?? (Follow the money, I suspect.) WDFW doesn’t even TRY to feign objectivity or adherence to science or biology.
Ohhh, the Wedge pack is the pack first pack that taught me about the illogical and intense hatred that public lands ranchers like Bill McIrvine have toward wolves.
As a kid, I spent summers in MT and learned open range was a fact of life. I never gave much thought to it back then, but there were no wolves there at that time. A few summers ago I was visiting family in OR and the open range cattle were always out in the road near Dead Man’s Pass rest stop on the small road that runs along highway 84. This was every day. By that time I had a little more knowledge and a different attitude toward public lands grazing and the continuous killing of our wildlife because of it.
Ranching is a business. Loss of cattle is a loss of revenue. If I have a store and someone burglarizes my store I don’t get reimbursed by taxpayers. The welfare ranchers have been getting a free pass for far too long. I think most people who don’t live in the West or who are familiar with ranching or agriculture are not aware of the sweetheart deal ranchers receive on our tax money. I also believe most people don’t know how many wild animals are slaughtered every year for the supposed benefit of the agriculture industry.
“I think most people who don’t live in the West or who are familiar with ranching or agriculture are not aware of the sweetheart deal ranchers receive on our tax money.
I also believe most people don’t know how many wild animals are slaughtered every year for the supposed benefit of the agriculture industry”
++++1. From someone who has lived in the west and sees it first hand.
You can trust the states to manage predators? Sure ya can (from the HCN):
Alaska Culled all The Collared Wolves and Now There Are None Left to Study – Study Ended
This should be illegal. I suppose it is up to us to force a change in the law. This is sickening. The loss is sickening.
Don’t get me wrong, I echo Lory Slade comment’s above and it disgusts me that ANY predators are killed because they kill some non-native livestock on public lands, but there are facts that we need to acknowledge.
Federal land management agencies (i.e. US Forest Service and BLM) are mandated to manage public lands using multiple use management practices of which one is grazing. Every grazing allotment has an environmental document prepared that defines grazing impacts to resources (water, vegetation, wildlife, fish, soils, T&E) and any mitigation measures that would be needed to meet legal mandates for the protection of the environment. These documents are updated every 10 years as the permits are up for renewal. The problem(s) are many of which lack of enforcement is IMO at the top of the list. There is unfortunately the unwillingness on the part of agency personnel to get the livestock out of streams and other sensitive areas and basically enforce the permit. I’ve taken photos and sent them to local offices letting them know of problems and they say they will look into it or if they are aware of it they will correct it. As a member of the public, you have more power than you think when you take your concern to the “top dog” at the local BLM or FS office because he or she doesn’t want any bad public outcry going beyond them.
Second, when wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone NP in 95 and 96, there was an agreement that ranchers would be compensated for losses and I believe also that wolves that caused chronic depredation would be allowed to be killed. Twenty years later, ranchers have and continue to learn better grazing practices regarding how to protect their livestock from predators and some conservation groups are assisting them with funding.
IMHO, we can either continue to COMPLAIN about why livestock should be removed from public lands and not allow the killing of predators for the sake of ranchers or
1. We can put our money into action by donating whatever we can to conservation organizations who are working to reduce conflicts between ranchers and predators by providing resources for range riders, fladry, guard dogs and other non-lethal methods.
2. Financially support organizations that purchase the rights to grazing permits, permanently retiring the allotments from livestock grazing.
3. Notify the local federal agency office with documentation (i.e photos) when you see unacceptable environmental degradation caused by livestock grazing. Follow up to see if any actions were undertaken and if not why. Speaking from experience, believe me the squeaky wheel gets greased.
I may be wrong but I’m not a believer that writing to your states politicians are effective so I don’t waste my time.
Non-native livestock should never take precedent over native wildlife on our public lands–ever.
I agree 100%. However what we need is some expert to tell us how to help. That is what is missing. I have connected with several organizations that support wolves. I don’t of anyone who knows specifically how to take action, including myself, other than to send money.
With all due respect (!), the public lands may be ‘multiple use’ in theory, but in practice they are dominated by ranching and hunting, and the agencies cater to them before others who have a ‘right’ to the public lands. We aren’t even allowed the right to contribute to a questionable wolf stamp because the hunters cabal didn’t want wildlife advocates to contribute, so the obedient ones have ‘tabled’ that discussion. What is the status of that, anyway!
Read and study:
MUSYA does not require or allow any single use to the exclusion of other uses. Wildlife habitat is a primary, not a secondary, tertiary or any lower level of public land utilization. Yet the Forest Service, BLM, state wildlife mngmt. Agencies treat wildlife, especially top predators as if expendable. This violates the very spirit of the MUSYA. The MUSYA also suggests that any land/resource use than can be achieved off public lands should be considered before it be allowed in public lands, especially in sensitive habitats.
SEC. 4. ¿16 U.S.C. 531À As used in this Act, the following terms shall have the following meanings: (a) ‘‘Multiple use’’ means: The management of all the various renewable surface resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people; making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources or related services over areas large enough to provide sufficient latitude for periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and conditions; that some land will be used for less than all of the resources; and harmonious and coordinated management of the various resources, each with the other, without impairment of the productivity of the land, with consideration being given to the relative values of the various resources, and not necessarily the combination of uses that will give the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit output. (b) ‘‘Sustained yield of the several products and services’’ means the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a highlevel annual or regular periodic output of the various renewable resources of the national forests without impairment of the productivity of the land. SEC. 5. ¿16 U.S.C. 528 noteÀ This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960’’.
Stop killing our wildlife!!! They were here first..they should be safe, healthy, and free!! Stop these slaughters!! Also there is so many of us that dont want our tax money to go to these slaughters…yes, ranchers should keep their prpropert on their own land..they can spend their own money to protect their property on their own land.
Here’s more on the history of this rancher – at this time he did not take any measures to protect his herd; the word they uses is *refused* to. It’s disappointing that the F&W dept. is his own personal ‘wildlife services’. It sounds like he has an ‘anti-wolf agenda’.
I do thank the person who posted who does take responsible measures to coexist with native wildlife who belong also.
This man leases land for grazing cattle in the National Forest, public land. Does that mean that other people can’t trespass on the leased area of public land? That is hardly multiple use. I wish that the WDFW and others like them could be investigated for fraud, misuse of taxpayers funds, or other corruption. There must be something. This has gone on for too long.
Ida, here is a link that answers your question regarding access to public lands, with the short answer, no, access cannot be denied to the public.
You will notice that Conservation Northwest who is very pro-active in working to reduce predator conflicts with ranchers agreed that the removal of the Wedge Pack was necessary, but that this was entirely Bill Mcirvines doing. I don’t know if the Forest Service can stipulate the requirement of non-lethal grazing measures in the ranchers permit since wolves are not a federal listed T&E species in this portion of the state.
Unlike many of the commenters on this site, having worked with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, I have no doubt, that WDFW did not come to this decision easily and is working hard to make sure these actions are not repeated. They have conflict resolution staff specifically for this issue but for every failure, there are numerous successes that never get the headlines.
As for the Montana Wolf Stamp, this was a single issue solely in one state. I have purchased conservation stamps from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to be dedicated for the conservation of wildlife with no $ limit and I would think other states having similar methods. There are dozens of ways to protect wildlife and their habitat and among my favorites are:
1. The National Wildlife Federation retires grazing permits where conflicts arise,
2. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition purchases bear proof food containers that are installed in FS campgrounds,
3. The Vital Ground Foundation purchases conservation easements to permanently
protect private land from development and
4. Conservation Northwest provides funds for ranchers to implement non-lethal grazing practices.
I’ve never been into complaining as it’s been my experience, it accomplishes little or nothing so I spend my time on solutions.
Thank you for answering my questions.
Complaining is a step or several steps up from apathy, so it ain’t that bad.
And many of you continue to assume that it is easy to get anything done, and conveniently ignore the corruption and politics that abound, are entrenched and stacked against anyone who tries. Writing letters, making donations, making environmentally positive changes in our personal lives, discussion, ad infinite, are a hell of a lot more than the majority of people do. Any progress is terribly slow (I’d say glacially slow but the glaciers are more speedy now thanks to climate change!). One poster blithely says raise grazing fees and write to the BLM, like it hasn’t been done, or tried, but blocked and voted down! A big change to societal attitudes is what is needed, and that won’t happen overnight. Our political system is in dire need of change also.
I DON’T LIKE THIS IDEAL OF ANY MAN KILLING ANY WOLVES, I DON’T CARE IF IT’S male of female. and if there is live stock looking around, stupid men who flies these Great BIRDS, SHOULD BE WHIP A THOUSAND TIMES. LEAVE ALL WOLVES ALONE.IF THEY HAVE to kill a cow, or pig or any other type of ANIMAL, so be it. they have to eat too you know. I have been a WOLF FAN for a number years now & I say stop shooting & Destorying all these BEAUTIFUL WOLVES. OR ALL YOUR HEADS WILL ROLL.
Please, please, please stop killing our precious wolves. No one needs to manage, hunt, or kill wolves in the 21st Century. We should do all that we can to protect and preserve them…while there’s still time.
This is regarding grizzlies, but affects all targeted wildlife as well. One thing that is needed are good, strong lobbies in Washington to fight back with, and I am a proud supporter of the Humane Society as well as other groups.
Any rancher who refuses to employ nonlethal preventive measures should have his complaints heeded if he loses livestock to wild predators. It costs money to eliminate wolves or cougars or bears, so the least such a rancher should be required to do is pay the entire cost of removal of the predators. That might encourage the bastards to employ preventive nonlethal measures. I doubt that anything short of this would be effective.
From the author:
“Shouldn’t a prerequisite for ranchers getting subsidized forage on public lands be the minimum requirement that they must accept any losses to predators?”
I completely agree.
Having read through the many comments I sympathize with the sentiment that cattle grazing negatively impacts deer and elk and also wolves. A good friend of mine is a range manager for the forest service and I’m always giving him a hard time about how cheap it is for ranchers to graze public land. He shares the sentiment but there isn’t much he can do about it; the cost per head of livestock is not set by local authorities you have to go to D.C. to find the people responsible for that.
I’m not against grazing on the national forests but allowable grazing levels need to be reduced and the cost needs to increase so that the forest service can afford to increase enforcement.
“I’m not against grazing on the national forests but allowable grazing levels need to be reduced and the cost needs to increase so that the forest service can afford to increase enforcement”
Enforcement? You’ve lost me with that comment Logan.
Why should grazing be allowed at all on public lands, when some? Many? Of ranchers who do graze them, are stockpiling hay or capable of raising cattle on their own lands?
To clarify – got 3 big ranches in my area (how many in other areas?) that continue to extend their hay bale storage areas (round bales, can’t miss them)
By my guesstimate, they could actually graze their cows, ON THEIR OWN PROPERTY, for a couple of years or more and supplement nicely, with the hay they’ve stockpiled the last 2-3 years, giving public lands/wildlife a much needed break.
But who’s paying any attention to the obvious since most of these grazing allotments are passed down – from generation to generation (ranching) – and are seldom reviewed, revised or revisited, by the agencies ultimately responsible, like Forest Service & BLM?
They seem to be content just getting a few bucks in the coffers..
I am a wolf lover, and I support Defenders of Wildlife on protecting wolves. I also sign petitions relating to protecting and saving wolves. Wolves are one of my favourite animals.
However, even I will admit that we do need to lay off the farm animals here. Farm animals may not be native to the USA, but they are still sentient beings, too. They have feelings and families, too. Besides, it isn’t their fault that they and/or their kinds were introduced to the USA, or that they were born in the USA. I say, “blame the ranchers and the farmers here, not the farm animals.”
Of course, I would still want these farmers and ranchers to be treated compassionately, and I would want you to remember that even they are, possibly, capable of good actions as well. I just feel that anyone who hurts, harms, kills or distresses an animal unnecessarily, depending on the situation, should, if found guilty, be put in a compassionate and safe jail for 10 years, banned from keeping, working with, volunteering with or otherwise being responsible for or being with animals for life (with or without parole, depending on the situation) and fined at least £5,000/$5,000/whatever else their local/national currency may be and/or made to do at least six months of compassionate, but unpaid community service.
Thank you for reading.
The kill order for the entire Profanity Pack (estimate of 9 remaining) was just issued by WDFW on Friday, 19 August. This includes the pups of the year (likely 3.5 – 4 months old). All will be removed for 6 calves confirmed killed by wolves, and 5-6 injured calves. If you figure at best value $1200 per calf at 6 losses = $7200, and injured calves will either be sold at a reduced rate or butchered later for meat. Cost of WDFW removal?? Include personnel (over) time, vehicle fuel costs etc and helicopters. Helicopters are expensive and this time of year with fires especially the clock is ticking…
The wolves were born there they belong there!! The cows are the trespassers they dont belong!! RiP the two Beauties that got Killed by the cowards in the heli!! STOP killing our wilderness n all the animals!!