April 8, 2009

By Joyce Campbell

The investigation into the alleged illegal killing of two gray wolves near the town of Twisp is continuing and no charges have been filed in the case.

One Twisp man has admitted to killing a wolf and having his wife attempt to ship the pelt to Canada, according to an affidavit filed by the state wildlife agency in Okanogan County District Court. According to the court document, his father admitted lying to authorities when federal and state agents served two search warrants at their houses in February and questioned them about the death of one of the pups from Washington state’s only wild gray wolf pack.

“A case of this type may take weeks if not months,” said Tom Rice, first assistant U.S. attorney in Spokane. Rice said that the federal attorney’s office is responsible for prosecuting a lot of crimes like bank robberies that are prioritized due to the danger presented to the community. Fish and wildlife cases and regulatory crimes do not rise to the level of a public safety priority, he said.

The case is a joint investigation by state and federal wildlife officials in response to the interception of a bloody wolf pelt that had been left for shipping from Omak to an address in Canada. Agents followed evidence that led them to suspect criminal involvement by Twisp residents Tom and Erin White and Tom’s father, Bill White.

“There are state and federal laws that both address methods of taking of listed species,” said Mike Cenci, deputy chief of enforcement for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Olympia. He said all alleged offenses are looked at collectively by the agencies involved. “Once the investigation is complete, both federal and state prosecutors will view information provided by law enforcement.”

“As far as we’re concerned, the federal government is leading, and it’s not our intention to get in the way of that, but to complement it,” said Cenci. “It has been a joint investigation all along and it continues to be.”

The taking of a gray wolf is a federal and state crime, punishable by up to a year in prison and fines up to $100,000. Smuggling under federal law carries penalties of fines and up to 10 years imprisonment.

The Washington Cattlemen’s Association responded on April 2 to news of the death of possibly two wolves in the Twisp case. The Whites are a ranching family that raises cattle and horses, according to Bill White.

“The Washington Cattlemen’s Association doesn’t condone the illegal killing of any game animals,” said the Association in a news release about the alleged illegal killing of two gray wolves in the Twisp area. The organization stated that it “continues to work with the state legislature to provide livestock producers and owners a wider variety of game management tools.”

The state senate is working on SB5272, a bill that would provide compensations to commercial producers of cattle, horses and sheep that suffer from damages or depredations from bear, wolf or cougar.

A recommended substitute bill would require the owner of commercial livestock to meet criteria including using preventive measures, exhausting all available compensation options and practicing recognized management techniques. The bill would also allow the Department of Fish and Wildlife to offer materials or services designed to reduce wildlife interactions.

The cattlemen’s group has been working with other groups on the state’s draft Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for the past year and a half and encourages the public to engage in the comment process to help shape the plan.

State wildlife staff and interested individuals and organizations developed the draft plan that is now under review. The agency expects to engage public comment in late spring or early summer. The draft plan is available on the WDFW website at www.wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/diversty/soc/gray_wolf/.