A judge in Seattle said Monday he may rule within two weeks on whether the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife can continue shooting wolves to protect livestock.
King County Superior Court Judge John McHale presided over a 3 1/2-hour video conference on the legality of lethal control in the eastern one-third of Washington, where wolves are not federally protected.
Claire Loebs Davis, an attorney for wolf advocates, asked the judge to bar Fish and Wildlife from killing wolves until the department studies the environmental consequences and firms up its rationale.
Fish and Wildlife’s lawyer, Amy Dona, asked McHale to reject what she called an invitation to micromanage wolf recovery. The department needs lethal control to foster tolerance in northeast Washington, she said. “It’s full of wolves.”
Wolf advocates and environmental groups are challenging Fish and Wildlife’s killing of wolves on several fronts. Monday’s court hearing was the most extensive yet on whether the department should suspend the practice and conduct a public review that could take years.
King County residents John Huskinson and Genevieve Jaquez-Schumacher, and Tim Coleman, director of the Kettle Range Conservation Group, filed the lawsuit last August to prevent Fish and Wildlife from removing the OPT wolf pack in Ferry County. McHale issued a temporary restraining order, but it was a few hours after the department had eliminated the pack.
The hearing Monday was on the broader issue of whether Fish and Wildlife has skirted the State Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Act. At the end of the hearing, McHale asked both sides to submit their desired conclusions. He said he hoped to rule within a week after that.
Fish and Wildlife argues it doesn’t have to do an environmental review before removing dangerous wildlife, including wolves. Dona said the department concluded shooting the OPT pack was the only way to stop chronic attacks on cattle.
“We were beyond chronic. We were in potential hyper-chronic mode,” she said.
The cattle were grazing in the Colville National Forest and belonged to the Diamond M Ranch — identified in court as “Producer X.” Fish and Wildlife also culled packs on the same grazing allotment the previous three years.
Loebs Davis said the department was refusing to recognize a brutal cycle and reconsider its approach to wolf management.
She argued the ranch took minimal steps to prevent the attacks, a claim Dona disputed. The department determined putting more riders on the allotment wouldn’t stop the depredations, Dona said.
“Range-riding is not a silver bullet. They’re not everywhere. They’re not cattle baby-sitters,” she said.
Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind decides when to use lethal control, guided by what the department calls a non-binding “protocol.” Wolf advocates argue the protocol amounts to a program that should have been subjected to public vetting, like other government actions.
The protocol calls for Susewind to consider lethal removal after three depredations in 30 days or four in 10 months. It’s not a firm line. The department says it considers whether the attacks can be curbed without shooting wolves.
Susewind on Friday authorized the killing of up to two wolves in the Togo pack in Ferry County. The pack had attacked at least seven calves over 10 months, according to the department.
The Wedge pack has attacked at least four calves in Stevens County between May 11 and June 17, but the department has not opted for lethal removal. The calves belonged to two different producers.