We fully understand the role of the judicial system in society and how it provides all citizens with access to justice. It’s in the U.S. Constitution.
However, we missed the part of the Constitution that allows backbench environmental groups to run to court to meddle in wildlife management. Specifically, we were disappointed that a Thurston County, Wash., judge found it necessary to intervene in how the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manages wolves. The state agency spent more than $1 million on a mediator to help the Wolf Advisory Group come up with a way to handle wolves that repeatedly kill livestock. Under the agreed-upon criteria a wolf would be culled after 4 cattle were attacked over 10 months, or 3 cattle were attacked in 30 days. The Togo pack in rural Ferry County has attacked 6 cattle since Nov. 2 and attacked 3 cattle from Aug. 8 to 18.
The Wolf Advisory Group includes representatives of environmental groups in addition to ranchers and other groups on all sides of the wolf issue, and the criteria were developed after prolonged public discussions that were part of a multi-year process. The environmentalist litigants in the latest lawsuit — Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity — had ample opportunity to participate.
The Wolf Advisory Group’s hard work was apparently for naught, because the environmental groups worked out a side deal with the department to get a one-day notice on plans to cull wolves. Their intent, of course, is to stop the culling by running to court.
Thus the judge stopped state wildlife managers from doing their jobs by issuing a temporary restraining order. A hearing later will discuss the merits of the groups’ arguments.
A few words about wolves in Washington state: There are plenty — at least 120 that have been found, though they turn up many parts of the state. And gray wolves are not a rare species. In fact, there are an estimated 10,000 wolves across the border in British Columbia, and there are 5,500 wolves in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and probably other states.
So the fact that a couple of environmental groups want to short-circuit how Washington state manages wolves is like worrying about stepping on an ant when there is an ant hill with thousands of ants nearby.
We don’t get paid for our advice to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The department probably wouldn’t pay for it anyway. But managers there would do well to avoid side deals such as that with the two environmental groups. All they want is to stop the department from doing its job, which is managing wolves.
The two environmental groups claim their interests would be damaged if one Togo wolf was killed. But it’s nothing compared to the damage those two groups and their lawsuit have done to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s years of efforts to reach a consensus on managing wolves.
Because of these two groups, concern over the wolves has been replaced by anger, and the words of many others who doubted that the Wolf Advisory Group could avoid environmental lawsuits will continue to echo across the state: “We told you so.”