File photo from a video taken in May by the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

File photo from a video taken in May by the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

By Ann McCreary

Prompted in part by the state’s extermination of the Wedge Pack last year, a coalition of conservation organizations is advocating amending some provisions of Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan to make them legally binding.

A petition filed by eight West Coast conservation groups asks the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to codify – or set into law – key elements of the plan. The petitioners say setting those policies into law would “bring greater certainty, accountability and transparency to wolf management in the future.”

The commission will hold a conference call meeting on Friday (Aug. 16) to consider the petition, which was submitted July 19. State law requires the commission to respond within 60 days.

A staff summary prepared for the meeting recommends the commission deny the petition because many areas of the plan identified in the petition are already being codified “and will continue to be amended as needed over time.”

State agencies have authority to adopt administrative codes, or rules, that are legally enforceable. Key aspects of the wolf management plan that petitioners want to become rules include the definition of what constitutes a wolf attack; provisions for lethal control (killing) of wolves and compensation to livestock or pet owners for losses to wolves.

The state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, adopted in 2011, was the result of a public process that took five years and 23 public meetings, 15 months of meetings by a 17-member stakeholder group, generated more than 65,000 written comments, and was peer-reviewed by 43 reviewers, the petition states.

“The Plan incorporates science as well as social and economic considerations, and represents five years of negotiated compromises … by stakeholders whose views regarding wolves spanned the widest possible range,” the petition states.

Without making key provisions legally binding, however, “the plan at this time is arguably no more than advisory,” petitioners said. “With codified rules, commercial livestock operators, conservation organizations, and regular citizens will all know with much greater certainty when and how the agency will react to a variety of situations. …”

Several key areas of the plan are proposed to be amended as legally binding rules, including provisions for lethal control by citizens and conditions for compensation for loss of property caused by wolves, said Dave Ware, game division manager for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). WDFW is currently taking public comments on these and other proposed amendments to the wolf plan until Sept. 20.

In a summary prepared for Friday’s meeting, Ware noted that petitioners disagree with several of WDFW’s proposed rules. One proposal would change the plan’s definition of “attack” from “biting, injuring or killing” to read “evidence to support the fact that animal to animal contact has occurred or is immediately imminent and the animal is in the attack posture or mode.”

Another proposal would eliminate the plan’s requirement that citizens obtain a permit from WDFW in order to kill a wolf caught in the act of attacking livestock (in areas of the state where wolves are not federally listed as endangered).

The amendments would also make permanent an emergency rule adopted earlier this year, which allows killing wolves caught attacking any domestic animal, including pets. The wolf management plan only allows for killing wolves attacking livestock.

“In this case the emergency rule … is outside of the plan,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity in California, one of the petitioners.

“When you have an agency introduce amendments … with language that is different from what the wolf plan said … you’re unraveling the plan piece by piece,” Weiss said.

“When the Wedge Pack action happened last fall, people were concerned that the plan wasn’t being followed,” Weiss said.

Wolves in the Wedge Pack in Stevens County were determined to be responsible for livestock injuries and deaths, and were subsequently shot by WDFW. Weiss said the cattle owner had not cooperated in non-lethal efforts to deter attacks outlined in the wolf management plan, and there were conflicting opinions from experts about whether wolves were in fact responsible for the attacks on the cattle.

Ware said WDFW officials regularly meet with the department’s wolf advisory group and are refining recommendations about the proposed changes to the wolf management plan. “We are having that … discussion now to get at predictability in compensation, lethal action,” Ware said.

“As suggested by the petitioners, a plan should be flexible and adaptive in order to successfully achieve its objectives, in this case recovery of wolves,” Ware said in his summary. He said WDFW is working “to maintain an open and transparent process of managing wolves.”

Petitioners include Cascadia Wildlands, Eugene, Ore.; Western Environmental Law Center, Eugene, Ore.; Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Portland, Ore.; Kettle Range Conservation Group, Republic, Wash.; The Lands Council, Spokane; Wildlands Network, Seattle; and Washington Chapter of the Sierra Club, Seattle.