By Ann McCreary

Conservation groups are asking Gov. Jay Inslee to reverse the state wildlife commission’s denial of a petition asking for rules that limit killing wolves as a means of dealing with livestock depredations.

Eight conservation groups filed a petition in June with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), asking the agency to enact rules that restrict when lethal control can be used.

The WDFW Commission denied the petition and recently authorized agency staff and a sheep owner in Stevens County to kill wolves in the Huckleberry Pack as a result of sheep predations attributed to the pack.

WDFW reported one Huckleberry Pack wolf had been shot as of last week.

“This is exactly the type of situation where, if strict, enforceable rules were in place to implement the state’s wolf plan, the sheep owner’s lax practices and the failure of the department to follow through would have kept the Huckleberry Pack safe from the knee-jerk kill order that has been issued against them,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands.

The conservation groups filed an appeal with the governor on Aug. 28 asking him to reverse the WDFW’s denial of the petition, which seeks to limit when WDFW can kill wolves and would require livestock producers to use nonlethal measures to protect their stock.

WDFW said the rancher has worked with wildlife managers to find nonlethal ways to prevent the wolves from preying on his 1,800 sheep, including using guard dogs and camping by his flock at night.

In a recent news release, WDFW said agency staff was working to help the livestock owner find another grazing area away from the Huckleberry Pack. WDFW officials were also working to capture and collar additional wolves in the pack to track movements, and were prepared to shoot wolves in the vicinity of the sheep.

“Our preferred option is to help the livestock owner move the sheep to another area, but finding a place to graze 1,800 animals presents a challenge,” said Nate Pamplin, WDFW wildlife program director.

In 2012, WDFW killed seven wolves in the Wedge Pack in Stevens County as a result of depredations on cattle. Conservation groups said the cattle owner had taken little action to protect his stock before the wolves were killed.

Wolf management in Washington is guided by a plan adopted in 2011. Wolves are protected throughout Washington as an endangered species under state law, and are protected as endangered under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state, which includes the Methow Valley and the Lookout Pack wolves.

WDFW has confirmed 13 wolf packs in the state. An annual survey found the population of wolves grew by one wolf from 2012 to 2013.

Conservation groups involved in the appeal include the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Environmental Law Center, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, the Lands Council, Wildlands Network, Kettle Range Conservation Group and the Washington chapter of the Sierra Club.