Washington Fish and Wildlife will ask a King County judge Jan. 3 to partially dismiss a lawsuit that opposes shooting wolves, seeking to repeat the success it had in another Western Washington courtroom.
Wolf advocates are suing to stop the department from killing wolves until it does an environmental review that could take two or more years. The department argues it’s obligated to promptly remove nuisance wildlife, including wolves attacking livestock.
A Thurston County judge in November agreed with Fish and Wildlife, narrowing but not ending a suit brought by environmental groups in 2018.
Wolf advocates hope for a different outcome in King County. Their lawsuit challenges the killing of wolves in 2019.
Another year of culling wolfpacks bolsters the argument that Fish and Wildlife has a “kill program” that should have been reviewed under the State Environmental Policy Act, the advocates’ attorney, Jonathon Bashford, said Monday.
“This wasn’t just a one-off case,” he said. “It’s a coherent program to kill wolves.”
The separate lawsuits in King and Thurston counties challenge a Fish and Wildlife lethal-removal protocol that applies to the eastern one-third of Washington.
In the western two-thirds of the state, the policy has no on-the-ground effect because wolves are federally protected.
The lawsuits claim Fish and Wildlife has violated SEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act, a law that calls for public review of agency actions. The APA claim is still pending in Thurston County and won’t be an issue in Friday’s King County hearing.
An environmental review was conducted before Fish and Wildlife adopted a wolf recovery plan in 2011, and the department says it’s not doing anything that contradicts the plan.
In court filings, the department has stressed its authority to protect people and property from wildlife. Wolves attacking livestock devalue grazing leases and are similar to wildlife damaging farm crops, according to the department.
In a brief filed Dec. 27, the department states that attacks on cattle by the OPT pack in the Colville National Forest escalated in 2019 “despite the use of multiple non-lethal deterrents.”
“Once one or more wolves have learned the behavior of feeding on livestock rather than on wildlife, further livestock depredations become likely...,” according to the department.
In their court filings, wolf advocates say they aren’t looking to force Fish and Wildlife to do an environmental review every time the department director authorizes lethal removal. But they accuse the department of failing to take a one-time, big-picture look at the cumulative effects of killing wolves.
According to wolf advocates, the Fish and Wildlife officers who handle problem wildlife are distinct from the “biologists, bureaucrats and conflict specialists who designed the protocol and issue kill orders.”
King County Judge John McHale, who is scheduled to preside Friday, issued a temporary junction in August prohibiting Fish and Wildlife from eliminating the OPT pack. The department, however, had killed the pack’s remaining members hours before McHale ruled.
The lawsuit was filed by retired Seattle construction manager John Huskinson, King County elementary teacher Genevieve Jaquez-Schumacher and Kettle Range Conservation Group director Tim Coleman.
The lawsuit brings attention to Fish and Wildlife’s response to cattle lost by the Diamond M Ranch on Forest Service allotments in Ferry County. The suit, however, could affect other ranchers in northeast and southeast Washington who have livestock in wolfpack territories.