Tag Archives: wolf management

Judge Dismisses SEPA Portion Of Lawsuit Over WDFW Wolf Removals

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.

(WIKIMEDIA)

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.

Wolves A Topic As WDFW Director Appears On TVW

While Washington hunters’ and anglers’ kids were out trick-or-treating last night, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind was on TVW’s Inside Olympia, speaking on agency hot-button items of the day — if not the past decade.

Budget; wolves; salmon production, fishing seasons and orca recovery; sea lion management; and Columbia gillnetting.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND (RIGHT) APPEARED ON INSIDE OLYMPIA WITH HOST AUSTIN JENKINS TO TALK ABOUT VARIOUS FISH AND WILDLIFE ISSUES. (TVW)

Given Governor Jay Inslee’s recent letter to WDFW on wolves and its response, and a court hearing today with two environmental groups, host Austin Jenkins dedicated a full third of his near-hour-long show to the subject of Canis lupus in Washington.

Watching it this morning, my ears perked up when the subject of wolf hunting came up for several minutes.

“It’s a legitimate hunting activity.”
–WDFW Director Kelly Susewind

That topic is among the boxes, per se, folks can check off as an important one to them in the agency’s extended scoping survey as it begins planning for postrecovery wolf management.

In the interest of sharing with fellow hunters where WDFW’s at with the issue, here’s how the conversation went down, based on a corrected transcript:

Austin Jenkins: In a kind of post-protected status environment, can you imagine a management plan that allows for the hunting of wolves?

Kelly Susewind: It’s certainly on the table. It’s a controversial issue. I don’t know if we’ll get there or not — that will be the outcome of our processes — but it certainly needs to be on the table. It’s been an activity that occurs in other states when they’ve reached the recovery stage.

AJ: And why does it need to be on the table? Is that a management question?

KS: Well, I guess it doesn’t have to be. To me it’s a process question, it’s good governance. We’re going into this with an open mind; we have no preconceived notions of what a postdelisting plan looks like. And so I want virtually everything on the table. Let’s give it a thorough vetting with a broad public base. Let’s understand where the citizens want to be on this issue.

We could manage with or without a hunting season. I think as you get the bigger numbers, there’s just the realities of what it’s going to take to manage, and we have to manage: It’s an apex predator. It’s wonderful that we’re getting to recovery; we have to manage in a way where they can coexist with humans.

A WASHINGTON HUNTER TAKES A LOOK AT A MOUNTAINSIDE AS HIS SHADOW STRETCHES OUT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

AJ: I think people can, and even if somebody who doesn’t hunt themselves might, understand hunting fowl, they might understand hunting deer and elk, because clearly when you hunt those animals you’re getting meat and you can eat them and there’s sort of this reason for, you know, getting your own food source. Hunting wolves doesn’t necessarily have that correlation, so what would be the purpose for hunting wolves other than somebody doesn’t like them and wants a tag to go kill them, or the sport of it, or perhaps because it’s a way to augment population control to the extent the agency wants and needs to do that?

KS: I would hope it would be the latter two. We don’t want folks out there killing wolves because they don’t like wolves. It’s a legitimate hunting activity. It’s not for protein, as you said, but hopefully — not hopefully, it has to be if we allow it — it has to be done as a part of management control, population control. 

From that perspective, there are a lot of folks out there who would like to enjoy going out and pursuing. It would be a challenge, to say the least. To do this from the ground in the way that we hunt in this state would be a challenge for folks. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, we again no preconceived notion of how that turns out.

Certainly there’s less of an appetite for hunting that’s not associated with food, with gathering protein, so it’s tougher in general. Then you bring in the passion people have for wolves. We’re a long ways from getting to a hunting season, I think.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON)

Since they were delisted in the early years of this decade wolves have been hunted in northeastern Washington by the Colville and Spokane Tribes, both on and off reservation, and now year-round with no limit on how many can be taken.

State managers have never worried that tribal hunting seasons would be a conservation concern either in that well-wolfed corner of Washington, or beyond.

Then again, there’s not much they — or even the fiercest of pro-wolfers — can do about it, as the tribes are sovereign nations and can manage wildlife how they want.

As for whether state hunters will one day be able to pursue wolves, there’s a two-part answer to that.

The technical process — the road map to a hunt — is easy.

It needs to be part of the environmental impact statement that will be developed out of this fall’s scoping process. The Fish and Wildlife Commission has to approve the plan with that element, downlist the status of wolves from state endangered to game species as they meet the recovery goals, and then set regulations and seasons.

The more difficult part is that wolf hunts are a “magnitudes bigger issue” than wolf-livestock conflict, which itself is huge.

There will be titanic headwinds and icy waters to steer through.

One avenue may be mediation between the sides — hunters, wolf lovers and other interested instate parties — just like how the disparate interests on WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group came together to agree on nonlethal preventative work and lethal protocols for removing wolves that attack cattle, sheep and other domestic animals.

Yet even as the idea is now percolating, as it were, it may also be on that stove for quite some time.

“We’re a long ways from getting to a hunting season, I think.”
–Susewind

Meanwhile, the scoping period that will help shape the draft environmental impact statement for how to manage wolves postrecovery continues through 5 p.m., Nov. 15.

It would behoove us hunters to register our thoughts formally. The time it takes to leave yet another comment on a Facebook wolf post isn’t much longer than it takes to fill out the seven-field questionnaire.

Go here.

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.

2 Removals, Nonlethal Deterrents Appear To Yield ‘Intended Effect’ On Smackout Wolves: WDFW

An after-action report from Washington wolf managers says that taking out two wolves this summer along with efforts to prevent their pack from tangling with grazing cattle appears to have worked.

WDFW says that if the Smackout Pack doesn’t cause any more depredations through Sept. 30, their evaluation period will end and the lethal removal protocol will, in essence, reset to two in a rolling 10-month period. Four would be the new trigger.

But if an attack does occur before the end of the month, they may go back in for another round.

WDFW’S 94-PAGE FINAL REPORT ON A STRING OF CALF ATTACKS OVER 10 MONTHS BY THE SMACKOUT PACK OF NORTHEAST WASHINGTON INCLUDES DEPREDATION INVESTIGATION RESULTS. (WDFW)

The agency’s 94-page final report was issued yesterday — 53 days since the second removal and 61 since the last depredation by the Stevens-Pend Oreille County pack — and will add another data point to the ongoing debate over whether killing wolves helps to quell attacks on cattle and other stock.

“The collaboration between WDFW personnel and the livestock producers, the approach highlighted in the protocol of both proactive and responsive nonlethal deterrents, and the incremental removal, appeared to have the intended effect of changing the Smackout Pack behavior to reduce the probability of reoccurring depredations while continuing to promote recovery,” it states near the end.

At the start of this year’s grazing season, it was believed there were 13 to 15 members in the Smackout Pack, three of which had telemetry collars.

The pack has been the subject of heavy deterrence efforts over the years, but it was blamed for killing three calves and injuring two others belonging to three different producers in attacks in late September 2016 and July 2017.

Four of the five depredations were confirmed and one was probable.

WDFW’s report provides the usual graphic details from those investigations, as well as more about the two wolves that were removed after Director Jim Unsworth’s July 20 authorization.

The first was a 30-pound “young of the year” female that was captured and euthanized two days after a calf was injured on Forest Service land.

The second was a 70-pound adult female removed on July 30.

“Both removals occurred within the 14-day window from the time of depredation, thereby having the most impact on changing the behavior of the pack,” the report states, referring to a study coauthored by researchers in the Northern Rockies. “The removals occurred within a short distance (one mile) from the livestock in an effort to provide the greatest influence on pack behavior related to livestock interactions.”

However, subsequent to putting the pup down, WDFW made a decision to only kill adult wolves (the collared breeding female is off limits).

A third wolf was legally killed in late June by a range rider when it was caught in the act of “chasing and posing an imminent threat” to cattle in a fenced pasture, the first time that provision has been employed in the state.

The report notes nonlethal deterrence work was being performed in the neighborhood of the pack not only this year but in recent grazing seasons as well.

“For approximately four years prior to confirmed depredations in the Smackout wolf pack territory, WDFW had been working with producers on both public and private lands to deter potential wolf depredations. These efforts included increased human presence near livestock on large grazing allotments. Other deterrents measures utilized over the past several years included sharing Wolf GPS collar data including information on den and rendezvous locations with applicable producers, sanitation (removal of livestock carcasses), fladry, fox lights, WDFW field personnel working with USFS range personnel, and monitoring by WDFW personnel,” the report states.

In other Washington wolf news:

  • WDFW reports that all’s quiet on the Sherman Pack front following a series of depredations and one removal.
  • There may — or may not — be a new pack in Okanogan County. It’s unclear if two pups and an adult spotted on a trail camera southeast of Oroville are the nearby Beaver Creek Pack or an as-yet-to-be-determined group of wolves.
  • An ethics complaint has been filed by a public employees group against a state representative alleging the lawmaker used his position to withhold funding for a university over a researcher’s wolf work.
  • And an opinion piece out this week in High Country News and headlined “Rural communities can coexist with wolves. Here’s how” focuses on the collaborative approach to dealing with the recovery of wolves in Washington.