A Seattle judge ruled Thursday that Washington Fish and Wildlife can continue to shoot wolves to stop chronic attacks on livestock, rejecting a claim by wolf advocates that culling packs broke the law.
King County Superior Court Judge John McHale stated in a 39-page decision that Fish and Wildlife uses lethal control as a last resort, case-by-case to balance the interests of rural communities and wolf recovery.
In a footnote at the end of the ruling, McHale cautioned Fish and Wildlife to use its authority carefully.
“The ruling does not provide WDFW with carte blanche authority for lethal removal actions, as WDFW’s authority to use lethal removal must be carefully and transparently exercised,” he wrote.
King County residents John Huskinson and Genevieve Jaquez-Schumacher, and Tim Coleman, director of the Kettle Range Conservation Group, filed the suit last year as Fish and Wildlife planned to eliminate the OPT pack in northeast Washington.
The department removed the pack before McHale could issue a restraining order. The larger issue of whether the department’s lethal-removal protocol violates the State Environmental Policy Act remained.
McHale ruled the protocol, developed by the department’s Wolf Advisory Group in 2017, did not have to go through SEPA review. He rejected claims by the wolf advocates that the protocol amounted to a program to kill wolves that needed environmental study and public comment.
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed,” the wolf advocates’ attorney, Claire Davis, said. “We had hoped Judge McHale would have been willing to rein in Fish and Wildlife.”
Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Scott Nielsen said lethal control was essential to animal agriculture in wolf territories.
“I’m glad to see (McHale) upheld the ability to lethally remove wolves,” he said. “I think public acceptance of wolves on the landscape would have been badly degraded.”
McHale’s ruling came on the same day that Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind authorized the department to shoot a wolf in the Wedge pack in Stevens County. The pack has killed two calves and injured 10 calves since May 11, according to the department.
The department also stepped back from trying to shoot up to two wolves in the Togo pack in Ferry County. Susewind authorized the removal June 19, but the department has been unsuccessful. The pack’s last confirmed attack on cattle was June 6.
Also Thursday, four environmental groups petitioned Gov. Jay Inslee to order Fish and Wildlife to write a rule specifying when the department can shoot wolves. The governor has 45 days to respond to the petition.
“The task of reforming Fish and Wildlife is at the doorstep of Governor Inslee,” Davis said.
In the opinion-ending footnote, McHale referenced a letter Inslee sent to Susewind last year asking for a plan to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock.
“It is the court’s hope that all impacted by wolf-livestock interaction will listen to each other and work with open minds in addressing concerns about lethal removal of wolves,” McHale wrote.
The state can shoot wolves in the eastern one-third of Washington to stop attacks on livestock. Wolves are federally protected in the rest of the state.
“We understand this is not the outcome that the petitioners, and likely other individuals, were hoping for,” Fish and Wildlife wolf policy leader Donny Martorello said in a statement.
“The department remains committed to working with a diversity of Washington citizens on ways to address wolf-livestock conflict and ultimately reduce the loss of wolves and livestock,” he said.
Wolf recovery has moved ahead, even with lethal removal of some wolves, according to the department.