Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 779-9613
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, (541) 525-5087
Tim Coleman, Kettle Range Conservation Group, (509) 775-2667
With Huckleberry Wolf Pack in Crosshairs, Conservation Groups Appeal to Gov. Inslee to Require Rules Limiting Killing of Washington’s Endangered Wolves
OLYMPIA, Wash.— Eight conservation groups filed an appeal with Governor Jay Inslee today to reverse the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s denial of a petition asking for enforceable rules limiting when wolves can be killed in response to livestock depredations. The petition seeks to limit when the Department of Fish and Wildlife can kill wolves and require livestock producers to use nonlethal measures to protect their stock. Rules similar to those requested by the petition are in place in Oregon and are working to encourage ranchers to enact nonlethal measures; there, the number of depredations has decreased dramatically, and the state has not killed wolves in more than three years.
“All we’re asking for are some very reasonable standards on what ranchers need to do to protect their livestock and when the state can step in and kill an endangered species,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Many, many questions about the circumstances that led the Department to secretly move to kill wolves in the Huckleberry pack this past weekend — on top of the disastrous killing of the Wedge pack in 2012 — highlight a clear need for such rules.”
In 2012 the Department killed seven wolves in the Wedge pack despite the fact that the rancher had taken little action to protect his stock. A similar situation is now taking place in southern Stevens County with the Huckleberry pack. The pack has been involved in multiple depredations of sheep, but there are many questions about the practices of the rancher in question. In particular, the rancher is grazing 1,800 sheep in highly dissected terrain in close proximity to a known wolf rendezvous site. Reportedly, the sheep have been protected merely by four guard dogs since a sheep herder quit roughly a month ago and was not replaced. Additionally, sheep carcasses have been left in the area, serving as a potential attractant to wolves.
Once depredations were discovered, the Department advised the Commission that the sheep were being moved, a range rider was being deployed and that agency staff were on-site to help deter further depredations, but before these actions were fully implemented, the Department secretly put a helicopter in the air to shoot wolves. To date, one wolf has been killed and the sheep still have not been moved.
“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.
Last Wednesday the Department issued an order authorizing agency staff and the sheep owner to kill any of the Huckleberry pack wolves in the vicinity, instead of using rubber bullets or other hazing tools. It has also come to light that the Department failed to accept offers of assistance from a Washington State University wolf researcher to help get sheep carcasses out, implement more nonlethal measures, and help monitor the situation. It also failed to accept an offer from a conservation group of special predator-deterrence lights used elsewhere in conflict situations. Instead, without notice to the public or even to the stakeholder advisory group the Department consults with to implement the state’s wolf plan, the Department launched a secret aerial gunning campaign over the weekend with the aim of killing up to four of the pack’s wolves. One young wolf, which may have been a pup from this spring’s litter, was killed from the air and after more unsuccessful airtime, the helicopter was grounded but efforts continue by the Department to trap and euthanize up to three more wolves.
“When the Commission denied our new petition, one reason they gave for the denial was that wolf-livestock conflicts are complicated,” said John Mellgren, staff attorney with Western Environmental Law Center, “but that’s precisely why clear rules must be adopted. When the Department shoots from the hip, as they have these past two weeks in dealing with the Huckleberry pack situation, the outcome is tragic for the wolves and a public-relations nightmare for the Department.”
Conservation groups filed a similar petition in the summer of 2013 but withdrew it based on promises from the Department to negotiate new rules governing lethal methods of wolf management. A year later, with no negotiations having taken place, the Department gave notice to the Commission it was going to introduce its own, far-less-protective lethal wolf-control rule, leading the groups to refile their petition.
“The Department’s actions have been extremely controversial and we know that Gov. Inslee’s office has received thousands of emails and phone calls just this week since the helicopter sniper took to the skies,” said Tim Coleman, executive director of the Kettle Range Conservation Group. “So we think he is fully aware of how much Washington residents care about the state’s endangered wolves and how badly it is needed for the Commission to adopt legally enforceable rules to prevent this from ever happening again.”
In 2011 the Commission formally adopted the state’s wolf plan, which was crafted in a five-year process with input from a 17-member stakeholder group, more than 65,000 written comments from the public, and a peer review by 43 scientists and wolf managers. However, Commission and Department officials have publicly stated that they view the plan as merely advisory. Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. Since the early 2000s, the animals have started to make a comeback by dispersing into Washington from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia. But wolf recovery is still in its infancy. According to the Department’s annual wolf report, Washington’s wolf population grew by only one wolf, from a population of 51 wolves to 52 wolves from the end of 2012 to the end of 2013.
The appeal to Gov. Inslee was filed by groups representing tens of thousands of Washington residents, including 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 State Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Upon receipt of the appeal, the governor’s office has 45 days to respond with a final decision.