Mediator works to find common ground on Washington wolves

By Jason Nark, Special To The Washington Post.

Published: December 7, 2018, 10:28 PM

One summer, over a decade ago, biologists discovered that gray wolves — once driven to near-extinction in the continental United States — were breeding again in Washington. The sound of howling wolf pups was welcome news for conservationists, but not for the state’s $700 million cattle industry.

When some wolves began to prey on livestock, age-old tensions were resurrected. Some members of that first pack were poached, despite federal protections. Ranchers whose forefathers believed a good wolf was a dead one now had to contend with government officials and conservationists who had other opinions.

Fortunately, there was someone to call for help: Francine Madden and her Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, the Center for Conservation Peacebuilding. In a city full of fascinating but oddly narrow areas of intellectual expertise, Madden’s is particularly niche: Her job is to make peace between humans who are fighting over wildlife.

On a warm October morning, I meet Madden at the National Zoo. The 48-year-old — today wearing cowboy boots a shade lighter than her brown hair — grows animated when she talks about her job, slapping my arm often to drive home a point. A curse or two slips out, though not when a pack of fourth-graders bounds down a path toward a hillside enclosure beside us.

“Is that a fox?” one boy asks.

“No, it’s a wolf,” another shouts.

The kids all howl at the wolf, then sprint off. Madden cracks a smile. “Honestly, I’m surprised when someone doesn’t have an opinion on wolves,” she says, hands waving excitedly. “When I see a wolf, my mental image of them is an animal that’s wearing this social, cultural and historical baggage, like a baggage cart at the airport we’ve loaded up. Think about it: ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Peter and the Wolf,’ the Bible, the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The wolf’s had a lot of human emotion poured into it.”

Indeed, wolves have been trapped, shot and poisoned en masse for centuries, “pursued with more passion and determination,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes, “than any other animal in U.S. history.” By the mid-1970s, gray wolves were among the first animals to make the endangered species list.

Then, in the 1990s, the U.S. government embarked on a controversial plan to boost the American wolf population with Canadian wolves. And as the wolf population of Eastern Washington state grew, ranchers and environmentalists began baring fangs. By 2015, things had gotten so bad that Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife hired Madden as a “third-party neutral,” charged with deflating hostilities among factions within the state’s Wolf Advisory Group. “When I took this case, I wanted it,” Madden says, “because wolves are the Middle East of wildlife conflict.”

What qualified Madden for this job? In addition to graduate degrees in science and policy from Indiana University, she had spent time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda. There, conservation efforts had helped increase the population of mountain gorillas — who occasionally terrorized villagers, who, in turn, resorted to poaching. Madden helped conservationists and villagers agree on a solution: create teams that could respond quickly to gorilla attacks. In the years since, she has gone on to mediate invasive-species conflicts in the Galapagos and around the globe.

In Washington, Madden spent 350 hours interviewing 80 people about wolves before she led advisory group meetings. She found anomalies in the narrative: a hunter who described seeing a wolf as a “religious experience”; environmentalists who supported, or at least were neutral about, the idea of a wolf hunt. Wolves, she found, were a proxy for other fears, such as fading traditions and a loss of control to Seattle progressives. “Sometimes,” she says, “a dispute has surface-level issues, and that can be taxes or climate change or, in this case, wolves. But it’s all about identity.”

Madden asked combatants to steer their hybrids and pickup trucks to local bars. Grab a beer, she asked them, or a veggie burger. And don’t talk about wolves. At least not right away. “The first time I saw her, to be honest with you, I felt like this is a lot of kumbaya, no way a cowboy is going to sit through this,” rancher Molly Linville told me by phone from her 6,000-acre spread in Douglas County. “I still don’t know how it worked. It all still feels like magic to me.”

In the end, Madden spent 200 days in Washington and 7,000 hours on the phone. (For 3 1/2 years of work, the state paid her nonprofit, with a staff of two, more than $1.2 million.) Conservationists eventually agreed that wolves could be culled if they preyed on livestock. For their part, ranchers agreed to try nonlethal methods, too.

Washington Wildlife Agency Issues Kill Orders for Two More Wolf Packs

For Immediate Release, November 7, 2018

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495, ngreenwald@biologicaldiversity.org

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2018/washington-wolves-11-07-2018.php?fbclid=IwAR3RmhlDUSRvnx4BtVqlhT7E-W0H4erFqocVY8q7-UicKUkQtqbvbkQwKOE

OLYMPIA, Wash.— Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind today authorized the killing of wolves in the Smackout pack in Stevens County and the remaining wolves of the Togo pack in Ferry County. The Department already has been trying since Oct. 27 to kill the last adult and pup of the Old Profanity Territory pack in Ferry County.

“We’re devastated that Washington officials are killing still more endangered wolves when science shows it won’t reduce livestock loss or improve tolerance for these misunderstood animals,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Three kill operations going at once on an endangered species by a state wildlife agency is very disturbing. They’re wiping out pack after pack, mostly at the behest of one livestock owner.”

Since 2012 the state has killed 21 state-endangered wolves, 17 of whom were killed for the same livestock operator, a longtime, vocal opponent of wolf recovery. The ongoing kill operation to kill the OPT pack’s father wolf and only remaining pup, as well as the kill order issued today for members of the Smackout pack, are on behalf of the same individual.

In September the Department killed the father wolf of the Togo pack, leaving his mate to fend for their two pups on her own. In October the Department killed the breeding female of the Old Profanity Territory pack and a five-month-old pup from the pack, leaving the breeding male on his own to provide for the sole remaining pup.

Both kill actions made it more likely the adults would attack more livestock, since livestock are easier prey than deer or elk for a lone wolf to successfully hunt. In both instances that proved to be the case, and even though it was the Department’s own actions that set these packs up for more conflict, the Department intends to eradicate both wolf families.

“Washingtonians overwhelmingly support wolf recovery,” said Greenwald. “Restoring these beautiful, intelligent animals will result in some loss of livestock, which is why the state compensates ranchers for their losses. But wildlife officials should not continue to kill this still endangered species.”

Smackout pack wolf

Smackout pack wolf photo by Carter Niemeyer. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

www.biologicaldiversity.org

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Washington Fish and Wildlife targets 2 more wolfpacks

Wolfpacks in Stevens and Ferry counties have been attacking cattle; state authorizes killing wolves.

Don JenkinsCapital Press

Published on November 7, 2018 9:50AM

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed Sept. 7 that wolves in the Togo pack attacked this calf. The calf survived but was euthanized to end its suffering. Fish and Wildlife issued a permit Nov. 7 allowing the rancher to shoot the pack’s remaining three wolves if caught in a private fenced pasture with cattle.

COURTESY PHOTO

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed Sept. 7 that wolves in the Togo pack attacked this calf. The calf survived but was euthanized to end its suffering. Fish and Wildlife issued a permit Nov. 7 allowing the rancher to shoot the pack’s remaining three wolves if caught in a private fenced pasture with cattle.

Washington Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind today authorized the killing of wolves in two packs attacking cattle in the northeast corner of the state. The orders come as the department continues to try to remove the rest of a third wolfpack.

The department plans to kill one or two wolves in the Smackout pack in Stevens County. Susewind also gave permission to a rancher in Ferry County to shoot the remaining three wolves in the Togo pack in Ferry County if the wolves enter a private fenced pasture with cattle.

Fish and Wildlife is continuing an effort to remove the remaining two wolves in the Old Profanity pack, also in Ferry County, the department’s wolf policy coordinator, Donny Martorello, said Wednesday. The department killed wolves in the pack in September and resumed targeting the pack Oct. 26 because of depredations on cattle continued.

Fish and Wildlife won’t immediately undertake removing the Togo pack because it’s occupied with the two other packs, but may in the coming weeks, according to the department.

Fish and Wildlife shot one Togo pack wolf in early September, but the pack has continued to attack cattle. The wolf already had been wounded by the rancher, who said he was approached by the wolf and shot in self-defense.

The department protocol calls for removing one or two wolves initially and waiting to see whether wolf depredations on livestock stop.

Fish and Wildlife won’t start the lethal-removal operation against the Smackout pack, or allow the shooting of Togo pack wolves, until Thursday at the earliest. The early morning directives today give environmental groups one day to go to court to challenge the order.

The notice is fallout from a lawsuit by environmental groups challenging an order last year to kill wolves. A Thurston County Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, but said the department should give time for courts to review future lethal-removal orders.

The Smackout pack has killed four heifers and injured one calf on private land since Aug. 20, according to Fish and Wildlife. Four of the attacks occurred between Oct. 14 and Nov. 1.

Fish and Wildlife considers lethal removal after a pack attacks three times in 30 days or four times in 10 months. The department policy calls for ranchers to do whatever they can to prevent the attacks and for wildlife managers to conclude that the attacks will continue unless the state intervenes.

The Smackout pack has four or five adult wolves, according to recent surveys by the department. The pack includes one female wolf that had been trapped and fitted with a radio collar that transmits her location. The department has not seen evidence that the pack produced pups this year.

The Togo pack has attacked cattle at least six times in the past 10 months, according to Fish and Wildlife. Two of the attacks were confirmed after the department shot one of two adults in the pack. The department confirmed the first attack Sept. 7, but held off restarting lethal removal because the department was concerned that killing the last adult would doom the pups given their size at the time.

Fish and Wildlife confirmed Oct. 26 that the pack had attacked another calf. The latest depredation indicates the pack will continue to prey on livestock, according to the department.

Fish and Wildlife said in a statement today that it did not expect the lethal-removal operations to harm the state’s overall recovery objectives. The goal is to have wolves established and regularly reproducing at least as far west as the Cascades. Washington wolves now are mostly confined to Eastern Washington, particularly in four northeast counties.

The wolf population in the eastern one-third of Washington is more than three times the recovery goal for that region, according to Fish and Wildlife.

As the wolf population has grown in that corner of the state, so has attacks on livestock. The department has removed wolves before, dating back to 2012, but has never had three lethal-removal operations active at the same time.

Fish and Wildlife approves killing of remaining two wolves in the old Profanity Peak pack area

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 26, 2018, 10:31 a.m.

FILE - This April 18, 2008 file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife shows a grey wolf. The final two members of a wolf pack occupying the old Profanity Peak Pack area will be killed, according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife news release. (Gary Kramer / AP)
FILE – This April 18, 2008 file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife shows a grey wolf. The final two members of a wolf pack occupying the old Profanity Peak Pack area will be killed, according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife news release. (Gary Kramer / AP)

The final two members of a wolf pack occupying the old Profanity Peak Pack area will be killed, according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife news release.

The kill order comes after members of the pack, which the department dubbed the Old Profanity Territory pack, killed or injured at least 16 cattle. The most recent was on Tuesday, according to the release.

WDFW killed a member of the pack on Sept. 16 following documented depredations. Per agency policy WDFW then monitored the area to see if lethal removal was effective. Despite two depredations in early October WDFW refrained from killing more wolves due to concerns about whether the range riding and other nonlethal deterrents were being implemented effectively.

The livestock in question are on a federal grazing allotment. Per allotment rules the producer was supposed to have his cattle off the land on Oct. 15. However, because of the “dense timber and rugged terrain” 10 percent of the producer’s cattle remain on the federal land.

In an interview Thursday Jay Shepherd, the wolf program lead for Conservation Northwest and one of the founders of the Northeast Washington Wolf-Cattle Collaborative, said in past years wolf-cattle conflicts had usually tapered off by now.

“It’s a weird year,” he said. “It just keeps going.”

WDFW must wait eight court hours between the announcement of a lethal action order and the execution of the order. In the past environmental groups have used that time to challenge the kill order.

Despite losses of roughly a dozen wolves a year from selective state-authorized lethal control, plus poaching, vehicle collisions and other human-related causes, Washington’s wolf population has grown each year. A minimum of 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs was reported by the WDFW this winter.

This story will be updated throughout the day.

The full news release is copied below:

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind today reauthorized department staff to lethally remove the remaining two wolves from a pack that has repeatedly preyed on cattle while occupying the Old Profanity Territory (OPT) in the Kettle River Range of Ferry County.

On Sept. 28 the department initiated an evaluation period to determine whether removing two wolves from the OPT pack last month has changed the pack’s behavior and reduced the potential for recurrent wolf depredations on livestock.

The Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and the department’s protocol indicate that a post-removal evaluation period should consider any depredations that take place after one or more wolves are removed from a pack.

The department documented two wolf depredations to calves found in the allotment between Oct. 5-7, and determined that the depredation by the OPT on Oct. 5 likely occurred after the removal period.

That incident would have supported a decision to remove more wolves at that time, but the Director sustained the evaluation period to consider the details and complexities of the situation in the field.

The U.S. Forest Service allotment where the affected producer grazes his livestock is large and lies entirely within the territory of the OPT pack. After the Oct. 5 depredation, the department took additional steps to document the range-riding operation on the allotment to make sure it is as effective as it can be.

However, the department documented another wolf depredation to livestock on Oct. 23, bringing the total to 16 wolf depredations by the OPT pack.

The affected producer was scheduled to remove his livestock from the U.S. Forest Service allotment by Oct.15. In practice, about 90 percent of the livestock are usually removed by that date. Due to the dense timber and rugged terrain, it may take several weeks longer to round up all the cattle on the allotment.

The producer is transporting a portion of his cattle to private grazing lands west of the Kettle Crest and another portion out of state. The private grazing lands west of the Kettle Crest are within the OPT pack territory, although they are at a lower elevations and on the periphery of the pack territory, which may reduce the likelihood of wolf depredations in these areas this winter.

There are also several other allotments with cattle within the OPT that are in a similar situation in terms of removing them from Forest Service grazing allotments.

The livestock producer who owns the affected livestock has continued to employ non-lethal methods to deter wolves from preying on his herd. Strategies used include contracting range riders to monitor his herd, removing or securing livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd, and removing known sick and injured livestock from the grazing area until they are healed.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife seeks Wolf Advisory Group candidates

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2018/oct/19/washington-department-of-fish-and-wildlife-seeks-w/

 Fri., Oct. 19, 2018, 3:10 p.m.

Washington’s Wolf Advisory Group is looking for new candidates to serve on the citizen committee that advises the department on wolf recovery and management.

There is one vacancy on the 18-member WAG, according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife news release.

Terms last for three years.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind will appoint members to the group from the applications and nominations the department receives to fill positions that become vacant within the next year.

“This advisory group has been extremely helpful in advising the department on the challenging issue of recovering and managing gray wolves in our state,” Susewind said in a news release. “We are looking for candidates who can work cooperatively with others to develop management recommendations that reflect a diversity of perspectives.”

However, Washington’s wolf policy has been attacked by both ranchers and conservation groups this year after wolves were credited with several cattle attacks and WDFW shooters killed members of the Togo Pack and wolves inhabiting the old Profanity Peak Pack area.

Ranchers and some northeast Washington politicians argued that the state waited too long to kill wolves which had documented cattle depredations while some conservation and environmental groups questioned whether the state can legally kill wolves.

WAG members represent the interests of environmentalists, ranchers, hunters and agriculture. New members must be available to meet as early as February 2019. The group meets four times a year.

Applications and nominations must be submitted in writing and address the following items:

  • The applicant or nominee’s name, address, telephone number, and email address;
  • People or groups making nominations must also submit their own names and contact information;
  • The candidate’s relevant experience, organizational affiliations, and reasons why they would be an effective advisory group member;
  • Familiarity with Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and current wolf recovery status and management issues; and
  • Experience in collaborating with people who have different values.

The deadline for submissions is 5 p.m. Nov 30, 2018. Applications and nominations may be emailed to Donny.martorello@dfw.wa.gov or sent to Martorello at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, P. O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504-3200

Wolves — keystone predators — topic of talk

181011 BMLT Gray_Wolf The Spokesman-Review.jpg

A female wolf from the Minam pack outside La Grande, Ore., after she was fitted with a tracking collar.

Wildlife biologist Mark Vekasy will discuss the dangers and benefits of reintroducing wolves in the Blues from 7-9 p.m. on Oct 18 at the Walla Walla Public Library, 238 E. Alder St.

The presentation is an opportunity to learn about the role of the wolf population in the Blue Mountains.

Wolves have been endangered across the West for decades because of various factors, including loss of habitat and extermination by livestock owners concerned for the safety of their animals.

Currently, the whole Northwest is home to only 122 gray wolves. Since these animals are keystone predators, their absence affects the entire ecosystem.

Vekasy is assistant district wildlife biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s third district.

District 3 covers southeast Washington and the Blue Mountains north of the Oregon border and extends to the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Vekasy has worked in and around the District for more than 10 years, first as a biologist with the Hells Canyon Bighorn Sheep Initiative in lower Hells Canyon and currently as a District biologist based in Walla Walla.

Mark has a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in zoology and has been working in wildlife research and management for more than 30 years on a variety of game and nongame species.

This free event is open to all ages.

For more details, contact Lauren Platman at lauren@bmlt.org or bmlt.org/.

Judge rejects effort to temporarily halt killing of wolves

Gray wolf (File photo)

AA

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state judge on Friday rejected efforts to temporarily block the killing of wolves that are preying on livestock in Ferry County.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy turned down a request from a conservation group for a temporary restraining order to block the killing.

The Center for Biological Diversity contended that killing wolves ignores science, causes long-term environmental harm and goes against the wishes of the great majority of state residents.

“We’re disappointed this kill order remains in place but we’re hopeful the courts will eventually stop this tragic string of state-sanctioned wolf killings,” said Amaroq Weiss, wolf advocate for the center.

She said Washington had a “trigger-happy approach to wolf management.”

It was not immediately clear when the wolf hunts would begin.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday approved killing one or more members of a new wolf pack that had attacked cattle near the Canadian border in northeast Washington. Wolves had killed a calf and injured five others on federal grazing land in Ferry County since Sept. 4, the agency said.

The new wolf pack has been dubbed the Old Profanity Territory Pack because the attacks occurred in an area once occupied by the Profanity Peak pack. The Profanity Peak pack was killed by the state in 2016 for preying on cattle.

Wolves were killed off in Washington early in the last century. But the animals started returning to the state early in this century from Idaho and Canada. There are at least 122 wolves in 22 packs in the state, according to the latest annual survey.

The agency contends that killing off some or all of the new pack will not harm recovery efforts.

Wolves are protected as an endangered species throughout the state. But a protocol developed by the agency and others to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock allows the state to kill wolves if officials confirm a certain number of livestock attacks within a certain time period.

The state has killed a total of 19 wolves in recent years, including a member of the Togo pack earlier this month.

Washington State to Kill More Wolves in Ferry County

by Evan Bush / Seattle Times
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind announced plans Wednesday for the agency (WDFW) to kill at least one of the wolves reportedly responsible for a recent rash of attacks on cattle in Ferry County, according to a department news release.
It’s the second time this year that WDFW has resorted to killing wolves as confrontations between the animals and cattle continue to bedevil the agency responsible for the canine species’ recovery in Washington state. A WDFW marksman earlier this month shot and killed a member of the Togo wolf pack, which was also preying on Ferry County cattle. Two conservation organizations filed a legal challenge over the agency’s decision about the Togo wolf. That lawsuit is ongoing.
WDFW will not be able to kill members of the new wolf pack until Thursday afternoon, and new legal challenges loom. Amaroq Weiss, a wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said her organization will seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the killing.
The wolf pack WDFW plans to target has tried to prey on cattle six times this month on federal grazing lands, killing one calf and injuring five others, according to WDFW. The pack, which was first identified by the department in May, is so new it does not have an official name. The agency believes the pack is made up of three or four adult wolves and two pups. WDFW biologists were able to collar the new pack’s adult male earlier this summer.
The wolf pack is living in the Kettle River Range, the same area that the Profanity Peak Pack once occupied. WDFW killed the members of the Profanity Peak Pack in 2016. Last year, the agency also targeted the Sherman Pack nearby.
Because it’s the third year in a row the agency intends to kill wolves in the area, some conservation organizations, including those that have supported lethal removal in the past, wonder if it’s time to try something new.
“It’s a really highly desirable landscape for wolves to be in. They keep coming back,” said Paula Sweeden, policy director for Conservation Northwest. She said the area is thickly forested, steep and often roadless. Cattle there are widely dispersed, which makes it difficult for range riders to keep track of them.
Sweeden said it was clear that the nonlethal methods employed by ranchers to prevent wolves from preying on cattle were clearly not working, but killing wolves there was not working, either.
“Three times in the same place indicates that combination is not working,” she said. “We want to call for a step back.”

Washington wildlife agency gets green light to kill cattle-hunting wolf

  22 HOURS AGO

Washington state government marksmen now have clearance to go out this weekend to shoot a wolf from a pack that has been preying on cattle in the Colville National Forest. A judge on Friday declined to extend a temporary stay on the killing won by several environmental groups last week.

Lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands were back in Thurston County Superior Court Friday morning seeking a longer injunction. They wanted to prevent the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from killing members of the Togo wolf pack.

“There is a high burden that has to be met,” said Judge Carol Murphy in issuing a denial from the bench. “That burden has not been met at this time.”

The new Department of Fish and Wildlife director, Kelly Susewind, watched from the back of the courtroom. After the ruling, he said he was “glad” the agency can proceed.

Still, inside and outside court Friday, the wildlife agency faced questions about the necessity of hunting down the male wolf, given that he is already limping from an existing bullet wound in a rear leg and probably not currently a threat to livestock.

“In order to change pack behavior, it’s still appropriate to lethally remove the collared male,” Susewind said in an interview.

The West Coast wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity predicted the disruption of the pack structure from killing its leader could increase — not decrease — problems for ranchers in the mountains near the Canadian border.

“In killing that wolf, that leaves his mate on her own to hunt and feed herself and her two pups,” said Amaroq Weiss. “If she’s hunting by herself, she’s not going to be able to take a big, wild prey animal like an elk down by herself. The most vulnerable prey that is in the area is livestock. So this may actually exacerbate the conflicts and result in more livestock losses, which no one wants.”

Weiss called the courtroom outcome “a tragic result” for the wolf, his pups and mate.

Susewind’s authorization to take lethal measures against one or more members of the Togo pack came after the pack preyed on cattle on six separate occasions in the Kettle River Range since last November.

Late last week, a cattleman shot and injured the Togo pack male in an incident that remains under investigation by Fish and Wildlife. The rancher told the agency’s staff that he shot in self-defense after encountering the growling wolf, who may have been protecting the pack’s pups.

Environmental groups in the Pacific Northwest other than those that brought the lawsuit are grudgingly going along with killing problem wolves as a last resort policy.

“Lawsuits and polarization haven’t worked out well for wolves elsewhere, so we see little upside in spreading those tactics to Washington, where wolf recovery is going relatively well overall,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of the Bellingham-based group Conservation Northwest, in a statement critical of the legal challenge.

He said collaboration between conservation groups, government agencies and livestock producers “is leading to less social conflict concerning wolves.” It’s also making ranchers more willing to adopt non-lethal wolf deterrence techniques, Friedman said.

Copyright 2018 Northwest News Network.

Frustrated northeast Washington politicians meet after judge blocks killing of Togo pack wolves

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 24, 2018, 6:27 p.m.

Politicians and ranchers in northeast Washington are chafing after two environmental groups from outside of the state temporarily blocked the legal killing of members of the Togo wolf pack.

In response, county commissioners from Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties met Friday in Colville.

“The meeting today was to try and develop, I guess, a strategy to go forward figuring out how to give the people in these counties a little bit of relief,” said Stevens County commissioner Don Dashiell.

Commissioners discussed, among other things, taking legal action.

The meeting was held in Colville in advance of a Tri County Economic Development District meeting.

Of particular concern was whether a judge will extend the temporary restraining order blocking the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from killing members of the Togo pack.

The Thurston County judge is scheduled to make a decision next Friday.

“When the judge put the restraining order on the department he didn’t put the restraining order on the wolves,” Dashiell said.

On Monday, WDFW ordered the lethal removal of wolves from the Togo pack in northeast Washington. However, the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon-based Cascadia Wildlands filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order to stop the killing. The lawsuit alleges that WDFW “relied upon a faulty protocol and failed to undergo required environmental analysis.”

The lethal removal order came after six documented cattle depredations in the past 10 months by the Togo pack. Three of those cattle kills occurred within the past 30 days. The most recent documented depredation occurred when one or more wolves injured a calf on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment in Ferry County.

WDFW’s policy allows killing of wolves if they prey on livestock three times in a 30-day period or four times in a 10-month periodThat policy was developed in 2016 by WDFW and its 18-member Wolf Advisory Group, which represents the concerns of environmentalists, hunters and livestock ranchers.

Seattle-based Conservation Northwest decried the lawsuit in a news release Thursday.

“Lawsuits and polarization haven’t worked out well for wolves elsewhere, so we see little upside in spreading those tactics to Washington, where wolf recovery is going relatively well overall” said Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest executive director in a news release. “Instead of polarization, our focus is on collaboration and long-term coexistence.”

All three Ferry and Stevens county commissioners attended the meeting. One Pend Oreille county commissioner also joined, as did state lawmakers, including Rep. Joel Kretz and Rep. Shelly Short.

Ferry County commissioner Johnna Exner said the commissioners are considering legal action and will be working with county prosecutors to see what those options are.

Exner pointed out that the hearing on the temporary restraining order was filed in Thurston County, too far away for any ranchers or northeast politicians to attend.

“It was held way too far away for anyone to even get to the court date,” she said.

The commissioners discussed other ways of alleviating the pressure on ranchers who they say are struggling to stay afloat because of wolf predations, Dashiell said.

One idea floated Friday was for WDFW to trap members of the Togo pack and hold them until the judge rules on whether the wolves can be killed or not.

Dashiell acknowledged that plan likely wouldn’t work.

Another possibility, Exner said, would be if wolves were delisted at the state level which would give the counties more flexibility. Wolves remain federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state and protected throughout the state under state law.

Exner pointed out that WDFW waited a week before ordering the killing of the wolves. For ranchers the extra time means potentially more dead cows, she said.

“(We need) swifter action on the plan that has already been set,” she said. “Both sides need to follow the plan.”