Breaking! Conservation Groups Work To Stop The Killing Of Endangered Wolves Over Conflicts With Livestock In Washington

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Conservation groups petitioned the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission yesterday for rules limiting when the state can kill endangered wolves over conflicts with livestock. The state has killed 31 wolves since 2012, relying on a protocol that skews heavily toward lethal and ineffective outcomes.

“Washington’s trigger-happy wolf program favors livestock owners and ignores sound science,” said Sophia Ressler, a Washington-based staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “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.”

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife currently uses its “Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol” to decide when to kill wolves. These rules are a product of the department’s negotiations with the Wolf Advisory Group, also known as WAG, whose members are hand-picked by the department.

Yesterday’s petition urges the wildlife commission to amend its rules to require that livestock producers use appropriate non-lethal deterrence methods to prevent conflict between livestock and wolves. The new rules would ensure that the state kills wolves only as a last resort.

The petition also proposes additional safeguards in areas where there have been repeated conflicts, such as in the Kettle River Range. Of the 31 wolves killed by the state since 2012, 26 were shot in the Kettle River Range on behalf of the same livestock operator. “Wolf pack after wolf pack have been slaughtered in the Kettle River Range, but wolves keep coming back,” said Ressler. “It’s a horrendous example of the futility of Washington’s wolf policies.”

According to the state’s recently released annual wolf report, a new pack has already established itself in the same area where the department killed the entire Old Profanity Territory pack in August of 2019 and where it wiped out the Sherman pack in 2017 and the Profanity Peak pack in 2016.

The petitioning groups do not agree with, or condone, killing Washington’s endangered 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 commission has 60 days to respond to the petition for rulemaking. If it’s denied conservationists may appeal the decision to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has told the department that repeated killing of wolves in the same area is “simply unacceptable.” If the petition is granted, the commission would open a comment period to seek public input on the new rules.

“Putting in place enforceable guidelines for when the state uses public funds to kill wolves is simply a no-brainer,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands. “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.”

Both the commission and the advisory group have continued to meet on a virtual platform throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. The commission adopted new cougar-hunting regulations at its April meeting, and the group continued its discussions on potential updates for the wolf-livestock interaction protocol at a meeting on April 30th.

“Washington is better than this wolf-management mess,” said Samantha Bruegger, wildlife coexistence campaigner at WildEarth Guardians. “The Wolf Advisory Group isn’t improving wolf-livestock protocols, the Forest Service isn’t improving wolf-livestock protocols, and the grazing season has already begun. Meanwhile, stock growers are knocking on the door demanding to collar more wolves. This has to stop. 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, Washington and Montana Director at 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.”

Yesterday’s petition was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Watersheds Project, and WildEarth Guardians.

We must do whatever we can to save wolves in Washington and throughout the United States from becoming victims of the livestock industry.

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