Photo courtesy of WDFW

Photo courtesy of WDFW

By Ann McCreary

A petition asking that some provisions of Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan be made legally binding has been withdrawn by the coalition of conservation groups that filed it last month.

Concerned that the wolf management plan was not followed when state officials killed most of the wolves in the Wedge Pack last year, eight West Coast conservation organizations petitioned the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to codify – or set into law – key elements of the wolf plan.

In particular, petitioners want  rules established to guide how the state or citizens can employ lethal control (killing) of wolves.

Representatives of the conservation groups met last week with Dave Ware, game division manager for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and subsequently withdrew the petition after being invited to work with WDFW to achieve some of their goals.

“It was clear to us the department was eager to engage in negotiations,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the petitioning groups. “We appreciated that a lot. The department agreed that some portions of the plan should be codified into rule because that would provide greater certainty and transparency.”

State agencies have authority to adopt administrative codes, or rules, that are legally enforceable. Key aspects of the wolf management plan that the petitioners want to become rules include the definition of what constitutes a wolf attack; provisions for lethal control 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 stated.

Weiss said the conservation groups want rules put in place to ensure the plan is followed. “With codified rules,” the petition said, “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.”

After meeting with Ware, Weiss said she felt reassured that “the wolf plan is alive and well and will continue to be as long as we fight for it. Our interest is in making sure provisions are in place that will best assist in recovering wolves over the long haul.”

Ware said representatives of the conservation groups have been invited to attend the September meeting of the Wolf Advisory Group, which meets monthly to advise WDFW on wolf issues.

The group represents a broad range of interests including the Farm Bureau, Conservation Northwest, the Sierra Club, Wolf Haven, the Humane Society, Hunters Heritage, and a representative of the Quad County Commission from northeast Washington.

Working with the Wolf Advisory Group, WDFW officials 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.

WDFW proposes establishing rules related to lethal control by citizens and conditions for compensation for loss of property caused by wolves, said Ware. WDFW is currently taking public comments on these and other proposed amendments to the wolf plan until Sept. 20.

Ware noted that the petitioners disagree with some of WDFW’s proposed rules. One proposal would change the plan’s definition of “attack” from “biting, injuring or killing,” to “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 that are attacking livestock.

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

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