Judge Denies Out-of-state Groups’ Initial Bid To Derail WA Wolf Protocols

Editor’s note: This is a developing story and will be updated as additional material arrives.

A Thurston County judge this morning turned down out-of-state environmental groups’ bid to stop the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from lethally removing the breeding male of a depredating wolf pack in northern Ferry County.

“As a result, a temporary restraining order issued by the court on Aug. 20, which has prohibited WDFW’s lethal removal action, will expire at 5 p.m. today,” spokesman Bruce Botka said.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS WHERE THE TOGO PACK IS BELIEVED TO BE CENTERED IN NORTHERN FERRY COUNTY. (WDFW)

In video tweeted out of the courtroom by KING 5 reporter Alison Morrow, Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy denies the organizations’ request for injunctive relief because it didn’t meet a legal benchmark to allow it to move forward.

“That applies both to the extension of the temporary order, or a preliminary injunction, or I use the word ‘stay,’ essentially staying the action until the resolution of this matter,” said Judge Murphy. “It also applies to the request to halt any future orders under the 2017 plan.”

That plan is the state’s lethal removal protocols, a hard-won compromise between ranchers, hunters and instate wolf advocates and WDFW that Arizona’s Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon’s Cascadia Wildlands are trying to derail through the court.

Two Monday mornings ago, when WDFW announced it would target the Togo Pack for six depredations since last November, including three in a 30-day space this summer, the two organizations filed a lawsuit and another Thurston County judge issued an order that temporarily blocked any lethal removals and set a hearing date for today.

The groups claimed the protocol was “faulty” and should have undergone a state environmental review.

Judge Murphy acknowledged how controversial the issue is but said that WDFW was following its 2011 wolf management plan and the protocol.

“It is clear to me from the record that there was some process that was followed,” she said in the Morrow video.

KUOW reporter Tom Banse tweeted, “Agency director (Kelly Susewind) watched from back of courtroom, said he is ‘glad’ WDFW’s authority to manage wolves to facilitate ‘social acceptance’ upheld.”

There were real concerns about what might happen in Eastern Washington if the TRO had been extended by the court.

Susewind, at his post less than a month, made a second trip to the state’s northeast corner last weekend to listen and talk with Rep. Joel Kretz and livestock producers about the situation.

“It would have absolutely exploded here” if Judge Murphy had ruled the other way, said Kretz this afternoon.

With a horse ranch on Bodie Mountain, on the Okanogan-Ferry County line, Kretz has been in the middle of the issue literally and metaphorically for seven years and. He said he’s been trying to keep people in his district from “going over the edge” and that the ruling was “a relief.”

From his vantage point he’s seen the “tremendous amount of work” that has gone into development of 2011’s wolf plan, the protocols and more, all of which he said were upended for 10 days as the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands essentially ran wolf policy in the state.

Speaking to the collaborative approach being taken with Washington’s wolf issues, where everybody is getting some but not all of what they want, as well as local forestry management that was challenged by another out-of-state group, Kretz said he hoped that the era of running to court to block things was coming to an end.

But in the aftermath of today’s court skirmish, defiant CBD spokeswoman Amaraq Weiss told the Capital Press, “We’re not done.”

She told KING 5 that there would be a future court date over WDFW’s alleged violation of two state acts in creating the lethal removal policy.

Following last week’s lawsuit, instate wolf advocates, hunters and the editorial board of the ag-oriented Press all issued statements of support of the protocol.

After Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese issued the TRO last week, the Togo’s breeding male was apparently hit by the bullet of a livestock producer checking on his cattle and who felt threatened as it approached and barked at him. The wolf survived but with a broken leg.

In a statement posted after the judge’s ruling, WDFW says that the kill order will be implemented after 5 today because wolf managers believe:

  • There is no evidence to indicate the pack’s behavior – the killing of livestock – will change.

  • While the male wolf is injured, the adult female may have trouble feeding both the adult male and her two pups unless she continues to prey on livestock.

  • It is more difficult for wolves to successfully capture wild game animals, such as deer and elk, than cows and calves.

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