You won’t hear WDFW crowing about winning a recent wolf case in court, but the agency’s state lawyer called it a “home run of a decision,” vindicating staffers’ difficult job managing the controversial species.
Joe Panesko of the Washington Attorney General’s Office made his comments to the Fish and Wildlife Commission this morning.
He was talking about a lawsuit by three residents who had challenged in King County Superior Court last summer’s decision to take out the Old Profanity Territory Pack and claimed that WDFW’s guiding wolf-livestock protocols had to have gone through State Environmental Policy Act reviews.
Panesko said that John Huskinson and Genevieve Jaquez-Schumacher of King County and Tim Coleman of Ferry County had raised “many allegations about staff shortcomings in the decision” in their petition to the court, but Judge John F. McHale wrote a 38-page opinion on the matter “knocking out every single one of those.”
And McHale also determined that WDFW Director Kelly Susewind had not been acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner with lethal removals, Panesko said.
“The record before the Court does not establish that the 2017 Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol establishes a program or policy to further, as Petitioners assert, an unstated goal of killing wolves. Rather, the evidence presented indicates that WDFW’s effort to restore the wolf population in Washington through the 2011 Wolf Plan and the 2017 Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol uses lethal action as a last resort, after careful case-by-case analysis, in an attempt to balance the interests of those living in rural communities who depend on livestock to earn a living with the important interest in wolf population restoration supported under the law and by all who appreciate wolves and the many positive aspects of their impact on the environment,” McHale wrote in his July 23 ruling.
“It was a home run of a decision of how the department has been handling these difficult decisions,” Panesko told the commissioners.
Even so, he noted that hardcore wolf advocates are not letting up in their attacks on WDFW wolf management whatsoever.
Written by Samantha Bruegger of WildEarth Guardians of Sante Fe, New Mexico, it argues that “The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) has effectively decided that it kills wolves whenever and however it feels like killing wolves” and that the Fish and Wildlife Commission had “doubled down on its penchant for lawlessness by denying a rulemaking petition” brought forward by four out-of-state environmental groups, including hers.
The quartet have now taken their allegations of WDFW mishandling wolf management to Governor Inslee.
“The King County judge refuted those overwhelmingly,” Panesko said.
A Thurston County judge also ruled in 2018 in the agency’s favor on a similar case.
Lethal removals are guided by WDFW’s 2017 Wolf-Livestock Protocols, developed with Wolf Advisory Group stakeholders – instate representatives of the livestock, hunting and conservation worlds.
They stress preventing conflict through range riding, delayed turnout, moving sick or dead cattle off the range and other measures first but allow for WDFW’s director to consider taking out wolves in packs that commit three rapid-fire depredations or chronically kill cattle, sheep or other domestic animals over a 10-month window in an effort to head off further losses for both herds and packs.
With the extreme feelings around wolves, WDFW has made an effort to be as even-keeled and low-key as possible.
With Judge McHale’s ruling, a brief agency statement dedicated space to acknowledge, “We understand this is not the outcome that the petitioners, and likely other individuals, were hoping for.”
Speaking before his overseers during this morning’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, Director Susewind reported of the court case that he felt “blessed” to have the legal support from the AG’s office, and that while he wasn’t celebrating the win, it “reinforces that we’re doing a thorough and thoughtful job.”
Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane said she and others on the citizen panel’s wolf subcommittee pay a lot of attention to decisions like McHale’s.
“None of us want to use this tool [lethal removal], but it’s a tool,” she said. “It’s agony and then we have these allegations and I feel bad for the staff.”