The Washington official who has the last word on whether to kill wolves says he struggled with making the call last summer, but decided that culling three packs that were attacking cattle was necessary and would not prevent wolves from recolonizing the state.
Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind spoke on a department video about being confronted with the decision in August during his first month on the job.
“I know the idea of killing wolves is deeply troubling for many Washingtonians, and I had to come to terms with it myself,” he said. “I had to come to terms with it within just the first few weeks of taking the job.”
The department posted the 4 minute, 37 second video on its YouTube channel Thursday. In it, Susewind says Fish and Wildlife is committed to wolf recovery and that “removing a small number of wolves to address conflicts will have no appreciable effect on wolf recovery in our state.”
Susewind moved from the Department of Ecology to take over as Fish and Wildlife director during another summer of wolf depredations on cattle, mostly in northeast Washington. Susewind had been Ecology’s top official on water-protection policies.
Within weeks of taking over at Fish and Wildlife, Susewind authorized shooting a wolf in the Togo pack in Ferry County. A Thurston County judge initially blocked the operation. Another judge allowed it to go forward at a hearing 11 days later attended by Susewind. In September and November, the department vigorously defended in court Susewind’s decision to remove wolves in the Smackout and Old Profanity Territory packs. In all, the department shot four wolves in the three packs.
“The decisions I made to remove wolves from those packs were difficult, but I believe I made the right call,” he said. “One reason is I based those decisions on the state’s wolf plan and the department’s protocol. The department’s protocol was developed by a broad diversity of stakeholders.”
Fish and Wildlife conferred with its Wolf Advisory Group. Members of the group who represent environmental and animal-welfare organizations opposed culling wolves in the Old Profanity Territory pack. They complained that shooting wolves in that part of the Colville National Forest was occurring too frequently.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands, two groups not represented on the advisory board, filed challenges to to lethal-removal operations. The groups are continuing to press a lawsuit alleging that Fish and Wildlife broke the law by not subjecting its lethal-removal protocol to scientific and public review.
In court hearings so far, Fish and Wildlife has defended rancher efforts to use non-lethal measures to prevent attacks. The state had at least 122 wolves at the end of 2017 and culling a handful won’t stop recovery, the department argues.
“Make no mistake, wolves are doing well,” Susewind said. “They’re here to stay. I do believe people and wolves can co-exist as long as we work together as stakeholders to find creative solutions that meet the needs of both wolves and our communities.”