All eyes in Washington’s wolf world will be focused Friday morning on a Thurston County courtroom where a judge will determine whether to extend a temporary restraining order against a WDFW kill order.
It’s a decision with implications as out-of-state environmental groups try to insert themselves into the management of an already hot-button species and the hard-won lethal removal protocols reached by the Wolf Advisory Group’s ranchers, hunters, wolf advocates and WDFW over how to deal with the inevitable depredations.
“Lots of people in my world are very concerned that it may become a permanent restraining order,” Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Jay Holzmiller of Anatone said during a teleconference Monday. “If it becomes permanent, it’s going to be Katy bar the door because people are frustrated.”
The TRO applies only to the Togo Pack of northern Ferry County, and last weekend, new Director Kelly Susewind made another trip to Northeast Washington to meet with local state Rep. Joel Kretz and livestock producers and hear their concerns.
During the conference call, he said he’d vowed WDFW would present its best legal case Friday but also that vigilantism would be counterproductive if the order is extended by Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese.
“People are really on edge. If it goes that way, they’re going to abandon the collaborative approach, I think, and what that means I’ll leave to them,” Susewind said.
A WDFW spokesman declined today to give a comment for this blog.
The agency hasn’t reported any depredations since Susewind’s Aug. 20 kill order for one or more members of the pack and that may be in part due to extra effort in the field.
In continuing to draw a very sharp contrast between the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity’s and Oregon-based Cascadia Wildlands’ court tactics and its own collaborative approach, Conservation Northwest this afternoon reported its staffers and contracted range riders have been working hard to prevent further depredations by the Togos.
“We and others stepped up to help the rancher protect cattle day and night given the Temporary Restraining Order [on lethal removal]. We have reduced possible wolf depredations by using night herd monitoring and also through the use of day time range riders that are protecting cow/calf pairs currently in the midst of the Togo Pack territory in the north Kettle Mountains. The well-trained range rider group uses years of experience and low-stress livestock handling methods to potentially aggregate cattle and document and monitor wolf activity,” the Seattle-based organization said in a statement this afternoon.
On Aug. 23, the breeding male also 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.
According to WDFW, the pack has been involved in six attacks on two producers’ cattle since last November, including three in a 30-day period this summer, a triggering level for consideration of lethal removals.
After some hesitation to better gauge the pack, that was approved but immediately stymied by the lawsuit which contends the lethal removal protocols are “faulty” and should have been subject to a state environmental analysis.
Wolves in this part of Washington are managed by WDFW and by all accounts appear to be doing pretty well, despite the agency’s rare removals after chronic depredations to prevent further conflicts.
The editorial board of the Capital Press, which reports on ranching and farming issues, lent its voice to the issue today, scolding WDFW for agreeing to give an eight-hour window to challenge kill orders, but also taking direct aim at CBD and Cascadia Wildlands.
“The two environmental groups claim their interests would be damaged if one Togo wolf was killed. But it’s nothing compared to the damage those two groups and their lawsuit have done to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s years of efforts to reach a consensus on managing wolves.”
Hunters on the WAG have also said they support WDFW’s position and others’ stance against the outside groups.
The hearing begins at 9 a.m.
If anything’s become clear in all this, it’s that the court action to delay and tie managers’ hands that had been seen in other states has arrived in Washington, and now Fish and Wildlife Commissioners are thinking longterm towards delisting planning, the battles there and getting their ducks in a row to limit hold-ups in the process.
“We’ve got a recovered wolf population in Eastern Washington. Our hands are tied because we’re still doing recovery management and we have to go through a bunch of legal steps on paper to get to where we really are in Eastern Washington. I’m really concerned about any delays,” said Kim Thorburn of Spokane.