Cite Inslee’s order to enact new rules
After Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission voted last month not to enact a new rule to manage wolf-livestock conflicts, five conservation groups filed a lawsuit to try to force the commission to take action.
The lawsuit, filed on Aug. 5, asks a state court to enforce an order by Gov. Jay Inslee directing state wildlife officials to enact rules outlining what steps must be taken before the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) can kill gray wolves because of attacks on livestock.
Inslee ordered WDFW to undertake a formal rulemaking process in 2020, after the Fish and Wildlife commission rejected a petition from conservation organizations asking the commission to develop regulations aimed at reducing the number of wolves killed due to livestock conflicts.
Following Inslee’s directive, WDFW developed rules that would have created legally binding protocols for managing conflict and determining when wolves can be killed. But in July, the nine-member Fish and Wildlife Commission, which determines policy and provides oversight for WDFW, voted 5-4 for a “no action” alternative under an environmental study developed as part of the rule-making process. The vote means no changes are required in the way WDFW manages wolf-livestock conflicts.
“Gov. Inslee recognizes that Washington needs science-based nonlethal strategies to protect wolves and livestock, but some wildlife commissioners are ignoring his request,” said Sophia Ressler. a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the organizations filing suit.
“We’re asking the court to recognize the governor’s authority and require commissioners to finally approve wolf rules they were supposed to finalize long ago. We need rules that put a check on the state’s trigger-happy approach to managing imperiled wolves,” Ressler said. Gray wolves are listed as an endangered species under state law.
The conservation groups filed a petition with the wildlife commission in 2020 in response to repeated killing of wolves, ordered by WDFW, on behalf of one livestock owner in northeast Washington “where the lack of adequate conflict-deterrence measures has resulted in chronic conflicts,” according to a new release from the organizations.
The proposed rule developed by WDFW would have established “chronic conflict zones” with specific plans for reducing conflict and determining when wolves could be killed. The plans would be written in collaboration with livestock producers, and would require that they implement appropriate measures to deter attacks on livestock before WDFW could order wolves to be killed.
“The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s July decision to not enact a rule to better protect Washington’s wolves from agency killing was not only disappointing, but illegal,” said Jocelyn Leroux of Western Watersheds Project.
“The commission ignored Gov. Inslee’s direction to create a rule that would ensure improved livestock-wolf conflict management and save wolves now and into the future,” Leroux said.
The conservation groups are seeking rules “clearly defining standards and processes that government and the public must follow,” said Timothy Coleman, executive director of the Kettle Range Conservation Group. Current wolf management in Washington is “arbitrary,” he said.
WDFW staff had argued that codifying a rule into law wasn’t necessary, because aside from designating conflict zones, most of the proposed rule was already part of wolf-livestock interaction protocols that guide management of wolves in Washington. The wildlife commission’s vote to take no action means that wolves will continue to be managed under the non-legally binding protocols.
“Washington’s wolves needed the commission to put enforceable rules in place requiring livestock producers to use effective nonlethal conflict mitigation measures,” said Lizzy Pennock of WildEarth Guardians. “Instead, five members of the nine-member commission wasted two years of work and voted for the status quo — irresponsible livestock grazing and government-sponsored wolf killing.”
The five commissioners voting for no action on the rule were on the wildlife commission in 2020 when it rejected the petition from conservation groups asking for new regulations on managing livestock-wolf conflicts. The four members who voted to enact the rule have been appointed to the commission by Inslee over the past two years.
Since 2012, WDFW has killed 38 wolves due to attacks on livestock, including two this year, according to WDFW.
Measures to deter 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.
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.
The groups bringing the lawsuit include Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds, and Kettle Range Conservation Group. The lawsuit was filed in Thurston County Superior Court.