WDFW wolf managers are asking a Westside prosecutor to file second-degree theft charges against several range riders after an agency investigation found they were allegedly not on the job in Northeast Washington when they said they were.
The Spokane Spokesman-Review‘s Eli Francovich broke the story yesterday and it’s based on documents filed in a separate legal matter involving wolves and WDFW, and were forwarded to the paper by wolf advocates.
The WDFW-contracted riders are accused of claiming to have worked a combined 40 hours over four days during September 2018’s depredations by the Old Profanity Territory Pack, which ultimately led to the removal of two members, but according to the story were instead allegedly buying building materials at a Spokane home improvement store and staying in a fancy downtown hotel.
The OPTs were destroyed last summer after again attacking cattle in northern Ferry County’s Kettle Range.
According to the article, the alleged theft amounts to $2,000.
One of the riders, Arron Scotten, a fifth-generation rancher and retired from the Navy after 20 years’ service, told Francovich that he “disputed pretty much everything” when confronted by WDFW Detective Lenny Hahn, who began his investigation in October. 2018.
The case includes phone records tying the riders to locations outside the mountains, but Scotten says he loans his phone to others.
Scotten also claims wolves are being “used as a weapon to try to remove grazing on public lands,” the article states.
Chris Bachman of The Lands Council, which provided documents to the Spokesman-Review, called for range riding protocols to be standardized, with specific benchmarks for using it as a nonlethal conflict prevention measure.
WDFW considers range riding to be one of two “critically important tools for mitigating wolf-livestock conflict” and if employed and attacks happen and are likely to again, state managers can consider lethally removing members of an offending pack.
Last fall Governor Jay Inslee waded into wolf management in the Kettle Range, telling 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.”
However, Inslee’s 2020 supplementary budget proposal did not fund additional options WDFW identified to carry out that program.