OLYMPIA — At a hastily arranged hearing in a nearly empty courtroom, a judge shelved, at least temporarily, a policy Monday developed over many years to reconcile livestock production with wolf conservation in northeast Washington.
Rep. Joel Kretz, who represents the region in the state House of Representatives, said the ruling, which blocks shooting a wolf to stop attacks on cattle in Ferry County, will undercut talks between wolf advocates, ranchers and others. The talks yielded a protocol that guides when wolfpacks are culled to stop chronic depredations.
“It was really difficult to get through,” said Kretz, a Republican. “It’s all out the window now.”
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese granted a temporary restraining order at the request of the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands to bar Fish and Wildlife from killing a male in the Togo wolfpack. The court will have another hearing Aug. 31 on whether to extend the order.
At issue is whether Fish and Wildlife’s lethal-removal policy went through proper environmental review. The department developed the protocol through its 18-member Wolf Advisory Group. Farmers, The multi-year process was informal and expensive. Fish and Wildlife paid a consultant, Francine Madden, $8,000 a day to lead meetings and soothe personal conflicts.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands claim the process and resulting lethal-removal protocol had too little scientific and public review.
“Wolves are part of Washington’s wildlife heritage, and agency management of these magnificent animals should be based on science, follow the law and allow for full public input,” Cascadia Wildlands legal director Nick Cady said in a written statement.
The hearing came about Monday because the two environmental groups won a commitment in Lanese’s court last spring from Fish and Wildlife to give a one-day notice before killing wolves. The notice gave the groups time to file their objection. Lawyers gathered at the courthouse and waited until a judge was available and a courtroom was empty. The first attorney into the courtroom turned on the lights. No rancher or anyone from northeast Washington, where the state’s wolves are concentrated, was there.
“This is what we thought would happen,” Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen said. “I’m not surprised. I am angered.
“It’s really bothersome that Thurston County is now telling us how to manage wolves,” he said. “It will have an unintended effect on social tolerance in this area.
“I don’t know where it will go. I think it will galvanize people,” Nielsen said. “I’m hoping it can be a concerted, combined, community-type effort.”
Lanese didn’t elaborate on his ruling, but cited a law that suggests he agreed that shooting a wolf would cause the environmental groups irreparable injury, while no one will suffer substantial harm by delaying the action.
Kretz said he knows the rancher who’s been hardest hit by wolves this month. He’s gone great lengths to protect his cattle, Kretz said. “He’s not going to make it if we don’t get it fixed now,” he said.
“I think it’s a tragedy,” Kretz said. “I’m the most frustrated I’ve ever been in 14 years of being a legislator, maybe my whole life, over this thing.”