Court injunction throws state’s wolf protocol into disarray

(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)

Judge blocks WDFW plan to lethally remove members of Togo Pack in Ferry County…

In a meeting room at the TEDD offices in Colville, local officials and cattlemen met with one question on their mind after a court injunction blocked WDFW’s lethal removal of wolves from the Togo Pack.

What do they do?

The court decision in Washington opened a new chapter of the wolf controversy. Last week, a judge in Thurston County blocked the WDFW’s order to lethally remove wolves in the Togo pack after several livestock attacks since November. This comes after wolf advocacy groups challenged the lethal removal in court.

Earlier this year, the court required WDFW to provide at least eight hours of public notice before beginning the lethal removal. Two out-of-state conservation groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands used this time period to legally challenge the move. They called the WDFW’s decision, despite it following the state’s Wolf Advisory Group’s guidelines, as not from a “reasoned decision-making process.”

The judge set August 31 as the court date to determine if the courts will extend the temporary restraining order on WDFW killing members of the Togo Pack.

WDFW has previously lethally removed wolves in the state after several live stock attacks in years past. The Togo wolf pack has attacked livestock three times in the past 30 days, and WDFW enacted their lethal removal procedures in northern Ferry County.

After the injunction, local officials and representatives from Ferry, Pend Oreille and Stevens County, as well as state senator Shelly Short and state representatives Jacquelin Maycumber and Joel Kretz, met with cattlemen and range riders last Friday in Colville to discuss what local governments could do to help local cattle producers still dealing with wolf attacks.

While options like relocation or trapping and holding wolves until after the courts figured things out were discussed, the issue of jurisdiction kept cropping up. Local officials vented frustration that while WDFW can’t do anything, wolves can still attack livestock.

Another question brought up at the meeting was if the court injunction preventing the WDFW from carrying out their protocol was also applicable to the Ferry County Sheriff’s Office and if they could they do anything.

Ferry County Commissioner Mike Blankenship brought up the point that the court document by the two conservation groups were 70 pages long, and given that WDFW gives only eight hours of public notice before moving into lethal removal, then this move must have been pre-meditated by the groups. They also questioned the decision being made in Olympia where no one from Ferry County and the Tri-County area could attend.

This flies in the face of Washington’s Wolf Advisory Group, a collection of wolf conservation groups, cattle producers, local politicians and hunters to assist and recommend strategies to WDFW in its management effort.

A member of the Stevens County Cattlemen, while not speaking as the group’s spokesman but rather for himself, stated that cattle producers’ hands are tied and no one is helping them.

“We’re the people forced to feed the wolves,” he said.

The cattleman also bemoaned the court injunction, as it ruins the seven-day window after a depredation needed for wildlife managers to modify wolf behavior.

“Why would I keep supporting these actions if they’re going to force us to be criminals or get out of the business?” he asked.

Ferry County Sheriff Ray Maycumber came to the meeting late after dealing with an auto accident. He said his authority as sheriff cannot buck the state courts and said that the best course of action would be to have the county’s attorneys look into the actions they can take.

When asked about trapping the wolves, Maycumber said that WDFW told him that when wolf biologists trapped a wolf, it acted poorly, broke its teeth and eventually died.

Maycumber also discouraged local or private action against the wolves, as it could cause ramifications in the future.

“If we do something on the ground, we will win the battle but will lose the war,” Maycumber said.

Range riders also spoke up at the meeting saying what a strain the wolf packs are putting on both herds and themselves. They said they’re putting in 14-hour days and thanks to game cameras they see wolves show up around cows about a half hour after they leave the range.

“I don’t know how many wolves there are, but there is a lot more than they say there are,” the rider said.

Officials also had the idea to reach out to the Colville Tribe as they allow the hunting of wolves on the reservation and the whole of Ferry County is their traditional hunting grounds. They also pointed out that tribes have federal courses of actions in court if the state gets involved.

“I’m pretty sure hunting would have to be done by tribal measures,” Blankenship said. “The state has walked away from Ferry County.”
The idea of moving the cattle in Ferry County was also brought up, but the cattle producer who owned the stock said it would take too much time and it would take a large piece of land to handle the number of livestock.

County commissioners also talked about coming up with joint resolutions, along with getting their attorneys to confer on what would the best course of action in court.

A Ferry County rancher reported that he shot an adult collared wolf in self-defense last Thursday within the Togo pack range, the WDFW said in a press release. State officials are investigating the incident.

According to collar data, the wolf is alive.

The rancher was responding to collar data that showed the wolf was near his livestock. While investigating, he saw wolf pups and heard barking and growling. When the adult wolf barked and approached him, he shot at the wolf.

He reported the incident to the Ferry County Sheriff’s Office which then let WDFW know.

Seattle-based Conservation Northwest released a statement in response to the legal action between WDFW and wildlife groups from Oregon and Arizona who have filed litigation.

“Lawsuits and polarization haven’t worked out well for wolves elsewhere, so we see little upside in spreading those tactics to Washington, where wolf recovery is going relatively well overall” said Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest executive director. “Instead of polarization, our focus is on collaboration and long-term coexistence.”

The group said that animal advocates, ranchers, Native Americans and others have to work together to come up with solutions.
“Our goal remains the long-term recovery and public acceptance of wolves alongside thriving local communities. By many measures, both quantitative and qualitative, wolf recovery is going well in Washington,” the group’s release said.

Conservation Northwest pointed out that Washington’s wolf population is growing, wolves are killed in the Rocky Mountain States at a rate five times higher than in Washington and said that WDFW’s lethal removal would be something the state’s wolf population could easily withstand.

“We believe that collaboration works far better for both wolves and people than treating other stakeholders in an antagonistic manner,” the group said in a release. “That is a key reason we have participated in the Wolf Advisory Group. The WAG, through careful deliberation, developed procedures that put heavy emphasis on methods to deter wolves from depredating on livestock before lethal measures are considered.”

Conservation Northwest said that more than 300 ranchers are employing proactive deterrence against wolves.