Two conservation groups are accusing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife of violating state law by improperly authorizing the killing of wolves in the Sherman pack and ignoring new research that doesn’t support killing problem wolves.
According to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands, the department has ignored restrictions on killing wolves under the 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for more than five years.
The lawsuit named the department, director Jim Unsworth and coordinator Lisa Wood, who is responsible for the department’s following the State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, in the lawsuit.
“Documents containing the complaint were delivered to the director’s office just before closing time on Monday,” department public affairs manager Bruce Botka said. “We haven’t had an opportunity to review them with our attorneys and don’t have an immediate response.”
The lawsuit seeks to prevent the department from authorizing any future kill orders without complying with SEPA or the state Administrative Procedure Act.
The lawsuit claims that “WDFW has authorized the extermination of three endangered wolfpacks at the demand of a single livestock owner,” without trying non-lethal methods of deterrence conflict, without evidence that depredations would have been likely to continue without non-lethal practices and with “evidence of ‘intentional feeding or unnatural attraction of wolves by the livestock owner.’”
Such actions violate SEPA because they are outside the bounds of the management plan and environmental impact statement, don’t follow the department’s rules and governing statutes, are not the result of a “reasoned decision-making process” and “are taken based on incomplete or erroneous facts,” according to the lawsuit.
“WDFW has not only ignored, but actively suppressed, significant scientific research published since the plan’s 2011 adoption, which demonstrates that killing wolves is not an effective way to decrease livestock depredations,” the lawsuit states. “In fact, these studies show that killing wolves may actually increase wolf depredation on livestock.”
The research shows that state-sponsored killing of wolves “leads to devaluing of the species, a loss of social tolerance and increased poaching,” according to the lawsuit.
Under the wolf plan, the department is required to perform a supplemental environmental impact statement to consider new scientific developments, the lawsuit states.
“It has acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner by actively refusing to consider these developments in implementing its kill orders,” the lawsuit states.
“What they are attempting to do is take away the tool we have when wolves do not respond to non-lethal deterrence,” said Scott Nielsen, president of Cattle Producers of Washington and vice president of Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association. “When you’ve done everything you can to prevent wolves from preying on livestock, the only option you have left as a rancher is to have WDFW remove those problem wolves.”
Sarah Ryan, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said her organization had not yet reviewed the entire lawsuit, but is concerned about the proposed injunction preventing the department from continuing to use its 2017 plan, calling it a “reasonable approach” to dealing with wolves that depredate on livestock.
“In our view, WDFW has followed the 2017 grazing season protocol to the ‘T’ and has not issued lethal action where it was not warranted,” Ryan told the Capital Press.