Critics fear wolves poached past brink of survival

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18 June 2011.  Seattle Times Newspaper

The time it took to investigate a Twisp family in a wolf-poaching case may have led to more poaching and to the eventual end of the state’s first confirmed pack in 70 years, a conservation group says.

By K.C. Mehaffey

TWISP, Okanogan County — The time it took to investigate a Twisp family in a wolf-poaching case may have led to more poaching and to the eventual end of the state’s first confirmed pack in 70 years, a conservation group says.

When federal authorities began investigating Twisp ranchers Bill White, his son, Tom, and daughter-in-law Erin in March 2009, the Methow Valley’s Lookout Pack included an estimated 10 wolves.

By this month, when the Whites were indicted by a federal grand jury on numerous charges, the pack had dwindled to just two animals, the alpha male and a young adult.

“How many of those wolves were killed in that two-year period? Was the poaching continuing?” asked Jasmine Minbashian, special-projects director for Conservation Northwest. “Whatever caused the delay — and I don’t know what did — could have been the death knell for the Lookout Pack.”

She said swift action would have sent a message to the anti-wolf community that wolf poaching is not tolerated.

Joan Jewett, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said she understands that some people feel it took longer than it should have to convene a grand jury.

“I don’t know exactly when we gave it to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, nor can I give you any examples of what they looked at that might have slowed it down,” she said. “Suffice it to say, we always do as thorough an investigation as possible, and sometimes that takes time. We want to make sure our investigation is as solid as it can be.”

News that some members of the state’s first documented wolf pack in 70 years had been poached came out in March 2009, after state and federal wildlife officers searched both of the Whites’ homes looking for evidence to connect them to a bloody wolf pelt shipped from Omak to Canada in December 2008.

It took federal prosecutors an additional year and three months to convene a grand jury for federal charges.

Nation & World | Critics fear wolves poached past brink of survival | Seattle Times Newspaper.

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