SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Eight conservation groups are complaining that it is too easy to kill wolves that attack livestock in Washington state.
The groups recently filed a petition asking the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to require that livestock producers first exhaust nonlethal measures to prevent wolf depredations before any wolves are killed.
The major impetus for the petition occurred in 2012, when Fish and Wildlife killed seven wolves in the Wedge Pack in northeastern Washington after they started preying on livestock.
Conservation groups contend the rancher in that case made little effort to protect his animals from wolves.
"The killing of the Wedge Pack in 2012 was a tragic waste of life that highlights the need for clear rules to limit the killing of wolves," said Amaroq Weiss, of the Center for Biological Diversity. "There are effective, nonlethal measures proven to protect livestock that can, and should, be used before killing wolves is ever considered."
Nonlethal means to control wolves include the use of range riders, fencing with plastic flags, and quick removal of prey carcasses.
Dave Ware, a manager for Fish and Wildlife, said the agency is still studying the petition and had not formulated a response.
Wolves have long provoked emotional reactions in the West.
The animals were driven to extinction in Washington in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry.
They began to return to the state from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s, and their population has grown to at least 52 wolves today.
The gray wolf is listed as a state endangered species throughout Washington. It is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act everywhere west of Highway 97 in northeastern Washington.
But their return has not been universally hailed. Some ranchers and hunters vehemently opposed the return of the wolves, saying the animals prey on livestock and deer populations.