OLYMPIA — Two environmental groups obtained a court order Monday barring the Washington Department Fish and Wildlife from killing a male wolf to stop attacks on livestock in Ferry County.
Thurston County Superior Judge Chris Lanese issued the temporary restraining order at the request of the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands. The order will remain in place until at least Aug. 31 when the court will consider issuing an injunction prohibiting the department from lethally removing the wolf.
“We’ll continue to work with the producer to deploy non-lethal preventive measures,” Fish and Wildlife wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said after the hearing. “Unfortunately, I would expect conflict between livestock and wolves to continue.”
The Togo pack has attacked at least six cattle since early November, including at least three since Aug. 8. The department was investigating another report of an injured calf Monday.
To stop the depredations, Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind gave public notice Monday morning that the department intended to try to kill one of the pack’s two known adult wolves beginning at 5 p.m.
The department issued the eight-hour notice to keep a pledge stemming from an earlier lawsuit by the two environmental groups challenging the legality of Fish and Wildlife’s lethal-removal protocol.
Lanese’s order bars Fish and Wildlife from enacting a policy that the department spent years developing with a broad group of interests, including other environmental groups.
While granting the order, Lanese said he would not comment on his decision because another judge is scheduled to preside over the Aug. 31 hearing.
The environmental groups’ attorney, Claire Loebs Davis, argued that the department has provided too little information on measures ranchers have taken to prevent the Togo pack from attacking livestock. The department also hasn’t studied the environmental effects of its lethal-removal policy, she said.
Loebs Davis said that while the rancher can be compensated for the loss of cattle, the killing of a wolf couldn’t be undone.
“This is a harm that cannot be remedied with financial compensation,” she said. “The harm to this pack would be beyond repair.”
Fish and Wildlife argued that shooting one wolf would not damage the state’s plan to establish wolves in Washington. The department planned to leave the female adult in the pack to increase the chances the pups will survive. The pack has at least two pups.
Assistant Attorney General Mike Grossman, representing Fish and Wildlife, said the department and producer who’s been losing cattle in the past two weeks have taken measures to prevent attacks.
He also warned the judge that culling wolfpacks to stop depredations was important to fostering social tolerance in northeast Washington, where a large majority of Washington’s wolves roam.
Grossman said the department has painstakingly built a coalition of different groups to support the lethal-removal policy. “Those coalitions are hard to build and easy to break,” he said.
Fish and Wildlife revised the lethal-removal protocol in 2016 by consulting with its 18-member Wolf Advisory Group. The group agreed to shorten the time between depredations and lethal removal in hopes that depredations will stop with fewer dead cattle and fewer killed wolves. The department was encouraged enough by the results to keep the policy in place.
One study cited by Fish and Wildlife suggests that killing a wolf within seven days of a depredation is effective at stopping attacks. Waiting longer than 14 days has no effect.
“We’re still very committed to the collaborative process, working with stakeholders to develop guidelines,” Martorello said. “At this stage, unfortunately, we may see depredations continue.”