Washington wolf advocates scored a court victory Feb. 20, as a judge in Seattle said he will take another look at whether Fish and Wildlife’s wolf-removal protocol violates the State Environmental Policy Act.
King County Superior Court Judge John McHale retracted a ruling he made in January that absolved Fish and Wildlife from conducting a formal environmental review before shooting wolves.
At the request of wolf advocates, McHale agreed to hear more evidence on the issue May 4. He also is scheduled to hear arguments that day on whether Fish and Wildlife had grounds to shoot wolves in the OPT pack last summer in northeast Washington.
McHale’s order Thursday revives the claim that Fish and Wildlife’s use of lethal control to protect livestock from wolves amounts to a “kill program” subject to the law that requires state and local agencies to identify possible environmental effects of their actions.
An environmental review could take two or more years, potentially suspending Fish and Wildlife’s use of lethal control to protect livestock from wolves.
Fish and Wildlife argues it has standing authority to kill dangerous wildlife, including wolves, and denies having a “kill program.”
Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind authorizes lethal removal on a case-by-case basis and is guided by a protocol the department developed with its Wolf Advisory Group, according to the department.
Wolf advocates claim Fish and Wildlife is trying to duck environmental review by labeling the protocol “merely guidance.”
McHale’s initial ruling mirrored a decision last year by a Thurston County judge, presiding in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands.
The King County lawsuit was filed by King County residents John Huskinson and Genevieve Jaquez-Schumacher.
In the order issued Feb. 20, McHale said he had reviewed the complaint against Fish and Wildlife and concluded it was possible the parties who brought the lawsuit might prevail.
Fish and Wildlife says shooting wolves as a last resort to protecting livestock maintains tolerance in rural communities for wolf recovery.
The department says the number of wolves it kills are not enough to prevent the overall population from increasing. The department anticipates the number of livestock attacked by wolves will increase in lockstep with population growth.
Wolves remain primarily confined to northeast and southeast Washington.