A Thurston County Superior Court judge today ruled against out-of-state environmentalist groups targeting Washington’s protocols for lethally removing problem wolves.
The Center for Biological Diversity of Arizona and Cascadia Wildlands of Eugene said the guidelines adopted in 2017 should have been evaluated under the State Environmental Policy Act and before three kill orders were issued last year, but Judge John C. Skinder dismissed their two claims to that effect.
In court papers, WDFW argued that taking out livestock-attacking wolves falls “squarely within several SEPA categorical exemptions” and pointed to state Supreme Court case law, state statutes and administrative codes.
The agency said that the organizations were misreading the act to try to include its wolf-livestock protocols, which guide nonlethal and lethal responses to attacks on cattle, sheep and other domestic animals, as part of the SEPA process.
WDFW’s wolf management plan did go through the environmental review before it was adopted in 2011, and the protocols are said to “flow from” that document.
Even as it represents another court victory against those chivvying WDFW over its predator management, wolf policy manager Donny Martorello was subdued early this afternoon in response to Judge Skinder’s decision.
“Our preference is not to be in court. I’m not a fan of winners and losers. I prefer the Wolf Advisory Group’s collaborative process,” he stated. “I concur that the judge’s decision was concurrent with case history, concurrent with state statute and Fish and Wildlife Commission rules, and I think it’s the right decision.”
The lawsuit was filed last fall by the two pro-wolf organizations after agency Director Kelly Susewind issued authorizations to kill members of three packs that were depredating cattle in Ferry and Stevens Counties.
WDFW, CBD and Cascadia Wildlands agreed to drop a third claim over a kill permit that had been extended to a Togo Pack range rancher.
A fourth claim, a merits hearing on whether removals violate the state’s Administrative Procedure Act, has not yet been scheduled, according to Martorello.
Killing wolves is a hot topic in Washington as WDFW attempts to balance recovering the species with the impact the animals have on local ranchers and herds.
Earlier this fall, Governor Jay Inslee told the agency to “make changes in the gray wolf recovery program to further increase the reliance on non-lethal methods, and to significantly reduce the need for lethal removal of this species” in Ferry County’s Kettle Range.
The agency is currently in a public scoping period for what’s important to hunters and other residents as it begins planning for postrecovery management of wolves in Washington.