Conservation groups are asking state wildlife officials to change wolf management rules to ensure that endangered wolves are killed only as a last resort after conflicts with livestock.
A petition filed by four conservation groups last week urges the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to amend its rules to require that livestock producers use “appropriate non-lethal deterrence methods” to prevent conflicts between livestock and wolves.
The state has killed 31 gray wolves since 2012, 26 of them in the Kettle River Range where there have been repeated conflicts between wolves and cattle owned by one rancher, according to a news release from Cascadia Wildlands, one of the petitioners.
In addition to making lethal removal (shooting) wolves the last resort in preventing wolves from preying on livestock, the petition proposes additional safeguards in areas with repeated incidents of wolves attacking livestock, like the Kettle River Range.
“Washington’s trigger-happy wolf program favors livestock owners and ignores sound science,” said Sophia Ressler, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a broken system. Enforceable rules would make wildlife officials accountable and give us a clear understanding of how and why they decide to kill wolves,” Ressler said in the news release.
“Wolf pack after wolf pack has been slaughtered in the Kettle River Range, but wolves keep coming back. It’s a horrendous example of the futility of Washington’s wolf policies,” Ressler said.
According to the state’s recently released annual wolf report, a new pack has already established itself in the same Kettle River Range area, on public land, where the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) killed an entire wolf pack (the Old Profanity Territory pack) last August. It’s the same area, and involves the same cattle rancher, where WDFW killed the Sherman pack in 2017 and the Profanity pack in 2016.
WDFW uses a “Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol” to decide when to kill wolves. The rules are a product of the department’s negotiations with the Wolf Advisory Group, a volunteer group of stakeholders whose members are selected by the department, according to the Cascadia Wildlands release.
The petitioning groups oppose the state’s policies on killing wolves to protect livestock. “We chose to propose rules to work within the department’s flawed framework, but we hope their amendments strengthen the current management and stop the senseless slaughter of this state-endangered species,” Ressler said.
The petition was filed by Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watershed Project, and WildEarth Guardians.
The wildlife commission has 60 days to respond to the petition for rulemaking. If it denies the petition, the conservation groups may appeal the decision to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has told the department that the repeated killing of wolves in the same area is “simply unacceptable,” the release said.
“This rule creates a reliable and predictable response from the agency that will work to reduce conflict surrounding the issue and guarantees wolves are not being killed at a rate that stagnates ongoing wolf recovery,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands.
At its April 30 meeting, held virtually, the Wolf Advisory Group continued discussions on potential updates for the wolf-livestock interaction protocol.
“Washington is better than this wolf management mess,” said Samantha Bruegger of WildEarth Guardians. “It is time to manage wolves in a way that is reflective of Washington’s values and the best available science.”
“Livestock grazing on public lands can’t be a death sentence for Washington’s native wolves,” said Jocelyn Leroux of the Western Watersheds Project. “If commercial livestock use on Washington’s public lands is not compatible with healthy, native ecosystems, the burden should not be on native wildlife to adapt.”
Measures to prevent wolf attacks on livestock include fencing, radio-activated guard boxes, lights, guard dogs, and range riders. WDFW also provides livestock producers with location data on wolf packs with collared wolves so they can identify areas of high wolf activity.
WDFW’s annual report found that last year 85% of the gray wolf packs in Washington were not involved in any attacks on livestock.
Gray wolves were virtually eliminated by the 1930s throughout Washington state by hunting and trapping. The Methow Valley’s Lookout Pack, which was discovered in 2008, was the first known resident pack in Washington in more than 70 years.
Gray wolves are protected under state law as an endangered species throughout Washington. In the western two-thirds of the state (including the Methow Valley), they are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Wolves are managed under WDFW’s Wolf Management and Conservation Plan, which sets recovery goals. When the species is considered to be recovered, protections can be lifted.