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Washington Governor Asks WDFW For Changes In Wolf Management

Updated 6:30 a.m., Oct. 1, 2019.

For the second time in recent years, Washington Governor Jay Inslee is stepping in state wildlife managers’ wheelhouse on predator management, in 2015 with cougars and this fall over wolves.

He sent WDFW Director Kelly Susewind a letter today that in part asks 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.”

A WASHINGTON WOLF TAKES A LOOK AROUND. (WDFW)

Referring to issues in Ferry and Stevens Counties, Inslee claims that the state wolf plan “does not appear to be working as intended” there and that he believes WDFW “cannot continue using the same management approach on this particular landscape.”

Northeast Washington is not only where the most wolves in the state are and where recovery goals were met long ago but also the sight of the most conflicts with livestock, mostly cattle but some sheep, on federal allotments and private lands.

Even as most Washington wolf packs generally stay out of trouble, there have been chronic depredations in the Kettle Range three of the past four years with the Profanity Peak, Old Profanity Territory, Togo and Sherman Packs coming under WDFW’s gun as livestock pile up and nonlethal tactics fail.

The agency uses a hard-won protocol to detrmine when to remove wolves, with requirements that producers use a set number of conflict prevention measures and that there have been either three confirmed/probable wolf attacks in a month or four confirmed in a year. It was agreed to by WDFW and members of its Wolf Advisory Group, made up of ranchers, hunters, advocates and others from Washington. Ever since it has been in place, out-of-state groups have been trying to blow it up.

Triggered by issues there again this year, wolf advocates, mostly from out of state and now including Wayne Pacelle, formerly of HSUS, have been mounting yet another pressure campaign on the governor.

It also involved a court battle this summer that saw WDFW lethally remove what were believed to be the last four OPT wolves just before a judge ordered them to cease the operation.

“We must find new methods to better support co-existence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state. The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable,” writes Inslee.

Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) is right in the thick of things in Northeast Washington and read the letter for the first time this evening.

He reiterated that he supports non-lethal work that is site-specific as well as more innovative local range riding programs, but also said that problem wolves need to be dealt with quickly, effectively and completely to head off more down the road.

He feels that 2018’s and 2019’s OPT Pack was the same as the Profanities that were in the middle of 2016’s end-of-summer nightmare.

Kretz said he prefers working with those invested in the area and claimed groups like Center for Biological Diversity are driven to create conflict for the revenues it brings in rather than the good of the local community.

“I think it’s people from hundreds of miles away throwing hand grenades,” Kretz said.

Pacelle’s Maryland-based Center for a Humane Economy bought a full-page ad in The Seattle Times this summer and reintroduced former WSU professor Rob Wielgus, now in Oregon, back into the fray. A Spokane-based group also put a message on a video billboard along I-5 for a couple week.

WDFW wasn’t expected to have a comment until Tuesday.

The letter to Susewind and cc’ed to Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Larry Carpenter comes not long after the director authorized incremental removals on the Grouse Flats Pack in the Blue Mountains and as there is an ongoing operation on the Togo Pack, and WDFW sent Inslee a request to include $26 million from the state General Fund in its supplemental budget next legislative session.

It arrives as the federal grazing season wraps up.

And it comes as WDFW’s post wolf delisting planning stage kicked off earlier in September.

“I believe the Canadian Gray wolf population within Washington’s borders has reached a population level that warrants delisting by the Fish and Wildlife Commission,” Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen), chairman of the House natural resources committee which WDFW legislation goes through, said Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, Inslee is asking the agency to fast track an ongoing lethal management guidelines update and work with the Forest Service, which is in charge of grazing on national forest lands.

And he gave them a Dec. 1 deadline for a progress report on his requests.

WDFW OPT Wolf Removal Op Can Proceed After Lawsuit Attempt

Editor’s note: Since this blog was posted around 3:30 p.m. today, Aug. 1, 2019, a King County Superior Court judge has sided against parties trying to stop WDFW from lethally removing livestock depredating wolves. “Judge decided in DFW’s favor so we can move forward with removal,” said agency spokeswoman Staci Lehman at 5:30 p.m. via email. “However, we don’t have a timeframe currently and someone else could file another TRO at any time.”

Editor’s note 2: During the Aug. 2, 2019 Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, Director Kelly Susewind provided an update to say that there will be an Aug. 16 court date “for a follow-up status report” and that in the meanwhile WDFW is “actively looking” to implement his lethal removal authorization.

Another active day in Washington’s wolf world, as the focus shifted from northern Ferry County to Seattle today.

That’s where a Maryland-based organization says a motion has been filed to stop WDFW from killing more Old Profanity Territory wolves for chronic cattle depredations.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The state agency has paused its planned lethal operation against the pack now blamed for killing or injuring 27 cows and calves since last September pending a judge’s decision.

A temporary restraining order could be granted with a follow-up court date in several days, or the injunction could be tossed out, which would allow WDFW to proceed, according to spokeswoman Staci Lehman.

As of 3:30 p.m. Thursday, word one way or another had yet to emerge from court.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind had greenlighted more OPT removals first thing yesterday morning, and following an eight-hour window for court challenges, state staffers could have begun targeting the eight wolves last evening or this morning.

But the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court by “two Washington residents” represented by Seattle attorney Johnathon Bashford and “with the support” of Wayne Pacelle’s Center for a Humane Economy put a halt to that.

Lehman says that technically motions can be filed by anybody at any time but that the eight-hour notice is a “courtesy” for people to get their “legal ducks in a row” before WDFW takes action.

Appealing for a restraining order is the same play that the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands made last August after the Togo Pack had attacked three times in 30 days and Susewind OKed killing one or two to try and head off more problems.

A Thurston County Superior Court judge initially granted the out-of-state groups a TRO, but it was lifted about 10 days later by another judge because it didn’t meet a legal benchmark to be able to move forward, and one Togo wolf was ultimately taken out.

In this latest lawsuit threat, the parties are taking issue with WDFW for removing wolves depredating on Diamond M Ranch cattle on federal grazing allotments and trying to draw attention to the livestock producers’ alleged “needlessly provocative actions.”

Meanwhile, they’re also taking their own — attempting to break the fragile peace that is wolf management in Washington, just as the Arizona- and Oregon-based organizations before them.

They’ve taken out a full-page ad in The Seattle Times in recent weeks and reintroduced Rob Wielgus into the fray, he of the 2016’s incendiary comments about the Diamond M and where they allegedly turned their cows out — and which led to a sharp rebuke from the university where he worked at the time.

Yesterday, WDFW also announced that a Togo Pack wolf had been shot by a rancher as it chased a calf and that the pack had three attacks within the past 30 days. The agency also alerted the public a week or so ago the Grouse Flats Pack had three in the past 10 months.

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