A Whitman County, Wash., farmer won’t face criminal prosecution for shooting a gray wolf in 2014 if he pays $100 and commits no further game violations for the next six months, the county’s prosecutor, Denis Tracy, announced Monday.
Jonathan Rasmussen, 38, has been charged with taking a state endangered species, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Rasmussen is accused of shooting the wolf Oct. 12 in a Palouse farm field southwest of Pullman.
Tracy said in an interview that Rasmussen has agreed to accept the deal. Rasmussen’s attorney, Roger Sandberg of Pullman, declined to comment, saying he will wait for a judge to approve the settlement.
“I recognize that the shooting of a wolf generates strong emotions in some people, and depending on the person, those emotions run either in support of such an act or opposed to such an act,” Tracy said in a written statement.
Tracy said that he received emails from as far away as Australia urging stiff prosecution. Tracy said charging Rasmussen with a felony wasn’t an option available to him. Also, Rasmussen couldn’t have merely called Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials to come and tranquilize the animal because the department doesn’t do that, Tracy said.
Other people, according to Tracy, argued that Whitman County is not a wilderness. It has long-settled towns and farms, where wolves are no more appropriate than in Bellevue, and that it has many children who raise animals.
“They ask whether the kids should have to pick up a Winchester on the way to the barn every morning or evening to keep themselves and their animals safe,” stated Tracy, who added that the question was “worth asking.”
Conservation Northwest Executive Director Mitch Friedman said he was disappointed in Tracy’s handling of the case and for questioning whether wolves should be in Whitman County. He said there was nothing in reports about the incident to suggest the wolf was a danger to anyone.
“It (the penalty) is too low. It sends a signal, but I’m more upset about his statement that wolves can’t exist in Whitman County,” Friedman said. “He’s making a decision for us, and that’s not his job.”
Washington Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Jack Field said the case illustrates that conflicts will arise as wolves return to the state.
“I support the process and the fact that the prosecutor made his best decision based on the facts that he had,” Field said.
In the interview, Tracy said the public interest and public passion in the case didn’t influence his decision, but it was one reason the case took 11 months to resolve.
“Their impact was to cause me to be very careful,” he said. “I thought about this case and how to resolve it for quite some time.”
Tracy said he concluded that giving Rasmussen the option of paying what Tracy estimated were the administrative costs for handing the case was justified for several reasons, and not a case of yielding to local sentiment.
“I don’t believe this decision is an outlier from the rest of the state,” he said.
Tracy noted that Rasmussen had no previous hunting or wildlife violations, called 911 to report the shooting and had forfeited his rifle to the WDFW.
Plus, Rasmussen was confronted with a “new and surprising situation” and that “wolves have not been seen here for a hundred years,” Tracy said.
The prosecutor acknowledged the unusual circumstances of the case, but noted that defendants accused of hunting misdemeanors who have no prior offenses are commonly offered such resolutions.
Also, Rasmussen could have been expected to argue the wolf was a public danger and also that denying his ability to protect his home was an unconstitutional taking of property, Tracy said.
The defense’s arguments put in doubt whether the prosecution could have won a conviction, Tracy said.