SEATTLE — Wolf advocates seeking to stop the Washington Department Fish and Wildlife from shooting wolves to protect livestock suffered another legal setback Friday.
King County Superior Court Judge John McHale dismissed claims that Fish and Wildlife's lethal-control policy violates the State Environmental Policy Act.
McHale's ruling mirrored one in November by a Thurston County judge presiding over a similar lawsuit.
Fish and Wildlife wolf policy lead Donny Martorello said the department prefers to develop wolf policy outside courtrooms. "This decision lets us continue to do that," Martorello said in a statement.
Jonathon Bashford, an attorney for the wolf advocates who brought the lawsuit, disagreed with the ruling. "We are reviewing Judge McHale's ruling and exploring our options," he said in email.
Wolf advocates and environmental groups alleged that Fish and Wildlife should have subjected its lethal-control policy on wolves to a formal environmental review, a process that can take two or more years.
While that claim has been dismissed, the lawsuits remain alive. Each also alleges the department has acted arbitrarily in killing wolves.
The King County lawsuit targets the department's removal last summer of the OPT pack in the Kettle River Range in northeast Washington.
The lawsuit alleges the department didn't follow its lethal-removal protocol in shooting wolves to protect cattle owned by the Diamond M Ranch. The department has defended its and the ranch's effort to prevent attacks.
McHale's written ruling Friday didn't address the department's actions last summer. But he agreed with Fish and Wildlife that the department can abate nuisances, including wolves that are attacking livestock, without conducting a SEPA review.
He rejected claims by wolf advocates that the department has a program to shoot wolves. Rather, according to the judge's written opinion, the department shoots wolves after making case-by-case decisions that are exempted from SEPA review.
Fish and Wildlife's use of lethal control, according to McHale, attempts to balance the interests of rural communities and people focused on wolf recovery and "the hard to understand and troubling act of killing wolves...."
King County residents John Huskinson and Genevieve Jaquez-Schumacher, and Kettle Range Conservation Group director Tim Coleman filed the King County lawsuit. The Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands filed the suit in Thurston County.
The department adopted its wolf-livestock interaction protocol in 2017. The protocol guides but does not dictate when Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind authorizes the removal of wolves.
McHale wrote that the protocol is consistent with the state wolf recovery plan, which was adopted in 2011 after a SEPA review.