The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has promised to give a warning of one business day before culling a livestock-attacking wolfpack to give environmental groups time to seek a restraining order.
The department made the pledge Friday as Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese dismissed a lawsuit filed in 2017 challenging the department’s decision to cull the Sherman pack.
The judge ruled the case was moot because the pack no longer exists. The department said it committed to the one-day notice at the judge’s request.
The environmental groups that filed the suit, the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands, said in a press release they expected that requests for restraining orders would be met sympathetically by courts.
“We don’t like that a state endangered wolf was killed and a pack lost, but we’re glad we’re going to get our concerns with the department’s wolf management heard,” Cascadia Wildlands legal director Nick Cady said in a written statement.
Fish and Wildlife said in a written statement that it already gives the advance notice before killing wolves.
In the past, Fish and Wildlife has announced lethal-removal operations, though it has not committed to a waiting period between making the announcement and searching for wolves.
A restraining order delaying lethal removal while a judge sorts out the merits of a lawsuit would undermine a department policy adopted last year. The department decided to intervene sooner to kill one or two wolves in a pack to stop chronic depredations.
The department hoped to reduce livestock losses and reduce the number of wolves that have to be culled to change the pack’s behavior. The department says the policy looked better than a previous one, which called for more depredations before the department considered lethal control.
The policy was developed with the department’s Wolf Advisory Group. The panel includes representatives from farm groups and environmental organizations. The two groups that filed the lawsuit are not on the panel.
The department killed one member of the Sherman pack in Ferry County last year, leaving one survivor. The two environmental groups claimed Fish and Wildlife should have conducted a formal review of the environmental consequences of shooting a state-endangered species and give the public a chance to comment on the review.
“We’re deeply saddened by the loss of the Sherman pack, but this new public notice agreement could save other Washington wolves,” Center for Biological Diversity wolf advocate Amaroq Weiss said in a written statement.
The department’s policy on lethal control of wolves was influenced by a study funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that found partial pack removal was most effective in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming if done within seven days of a depredation. If wildlife managers waited 14 days, there was no difference between partial pack removal and doing nothing, according to the study.