Inslee wolves

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in a letter Sept. 30 that shooting wolves every year in the Kettle River Range is “unacceptable.”

Shooting wolves annually in the Kettle River Range in northeast Washington is “simply unacceptable,” state Gov. Jay Inslee said in a letter Monday to Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind.

Inslee asked Susewind to rely less on killing wolves to reduce livestock losses in a corner of the state that Fish and Wildlife describes as “saturated” with wolfpacks.

“The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable,” Inslee wrote.

Northeast Washington state Rep. Joel Kretz, whose district has about 90% of the state’s wolves, said the governor should have toured wolf country before asking for a new policy.

“The problem I have with this is that there is a lot of local effort to solve the problem, and here we go managing the problem from 300 miles away,” said Kretz, a Republican. “We’ve been working on a solution on this night and day.”

Inslee’s spokeswoman, Tara Lee, said the governor was open to considering a tour.

Fish and Wildlife, facing two lawsuits over killing wolves, said in a statement that it agreed “something has to change to reduce the loss of both wolves and livestock in the area.”

“The forest conditions and livestock operations in this particular landscape make it extremely challenging, and unfortunately, has resulted in repeated lethal-removal actions,” the department stated.

Wolf advocates praised Inslee’s letter, which included the governor’s most extensive public remarks to date on wolves.

“This is a huge step forward for the protection of Washington’s wolves,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re grateful that the governor has stepped in to do what’s right.”

Inslee’s comments come after another summer of conflict over the state’s growing wolf population.

Since July, Susewind has directed the department to cull three packs, including two in the Kettle River Range in Ferry County. The other pack is in southeast Washington.

Wolf advocates have conducted public and legal campaigns in Puget Sound to oppose lethal control. Fish and Wildlife cancelled 14 town halls on wolf management, saying there was too much chance the meetings would be disrupted and even unsafe. The department has not identified any source of the threats.

Inslee said he shares concerns that the department has resorted too often to lethal control. The governor asked Susewind to report by Dec. 1 how the department intends to reduce cattle-wolf conflicts with non-lethal measures.

“I believe we cannot continue using the same management approach on this particular landscape,” Inslee wrote.

The governor does not directly control Fish and Wildlife. Susewind answers to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor.

“Wolf management should not be handled by the politicians. It should be handled by the professionals,” Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen.

“I understand he’s our governor, and he’s entitled to his opinion, but I don’t think he’s looking out for the interests of people in our area,” said Nielsen, a northeast Washington rancher. “I’d like to see the governor more concerned about my cows.”

Fish and Wildlife shot eight wolves this summer to remove the OPT pack in Ferry County. Wolves had occupied the same federal grazing land under different pack names for several years.

Susewind also has directed the department to remove the two known wolves in the Togo pack in the same county. The department, however, has shifted its attention to the Grouse Flats pack in southeast Washington.

In all cases, the department said ranchers tried to prevent attacks on cattle, but that without lethal control, livestock losses would continue.

Wolves have attacked cattle on private and public lands, including in the Colville National Forest on allotments ranchers have turned out cattle on for decades.

Inslee asked Susewind to work with the Forest Service to change “allotment policies for public lands that are prime wolf habitat.” Lee, the spokeswoman, said the governor wasn’t advocating taking cattle off grazing allotments, but he was encouraging more discussion about preventing conflicts.

Kretz said conflicts have persisted because Fish and Wildlife has left wolves habituated to cattle. “Every spring they’re shocked that the same thing happened,” he said.

Defenders of Wildlife Northwest director Quinn Read said she was thankful to Inslee “for pushing back against the status quo in the Kettle River Range.”

“We can’t turn a blind eye to avoidable conflicts that lead to the continued lethal removal of wolves and expect a different result,” she said in a statement.

In a press release, the Center for a Humane Economy, based in Bethesda, Md., and Animal Wellness Action, based in Washington, D.C., said it paid for print and digital advertisements to encourage Inslee’s intervention.

{p class=”p1”}”Gov. Inslee has done the right thing in directing the Department of Fish and Wildlife to step up its non-lethal wolf management strategies and slow down its wolf killing,” said the center’s president, Wayne Pacelle.

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