OLYMPIA — The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife can move ahead with killing one or two wolves in the Colville National Forest after a judge Friday declined to intervene at the request of environmental groups.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy said she would not interfere with Fish and Wildlife’s attempts to balance wolf recovery and social tolerance in northeast Washington.
She added, however, that she was eager to take up the broader claim that the department’s policy on culling wolfpacks hasn’t gone through required scientific and public review.
“This is a very difficult and controversial situation, she said.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands sought a temporary restraining order to block Fish and Wildlife from targeting a pack in northern Ferry County. The pack has attacked at least six calves since Sept. 4. Department guidelines call for it to consider removing one or two wolves after three attacks in 30 days.
The unnamed pack has three or four adults and likely two pups, according to Fish and Wildlife. In the same territory, the department shot seven wolves in 2016 and one in 2017.
The hearing Friday replayed some of the issues aired when the two environmental groups obtained a restraining order Aug. 20 from another judge blocking the department from shooting a wolf in the Togo pack, also in Ferry County. Murphy lifted the restraining order Aug. 31, and the department shot the wolf Sept. 2.
Murphy said Friday she wanted to hear arguments before the end of the year on whether Fish and Wildlife’s lethal-control policy for wolves violates the State Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Act.
For now, Fish and Wildlife’s lethal-control protocol stands. The department’s wolf policy coordinator, Donny Martorello, said the department will move ahead with the operation. He declined to say whether the department would remove more than one wolf.
Environmental groups argued that Fish and Wildlife shouldn’t resort to killing wolves on the same Forest Service allotment for a third straight year. “There is no sign this pattern is going to end,” Center for Biological Diversity attorney Claire Loebs Davis said.
Without mentioning the Diamond M ranch by name, Fish and Wildlife attorney Michael Grossmann said it wasn’t surprising the ranch was losing cattle in an area saturated with wolves. “He’s the biggest producer in the state of Washington,” Grossmann said.
Grossmann defended the ranch’s refusal to apply for compensation from the state for losses. He asked the judge to consider the “social ethos in this particular area.”
“They don’t want a handout from the government. To some of us, that might seem irrational,” Grossmann said.
According to Fish and Wildlife, there was little sign of wolf activity when the ranch put cattle on the allotment in July. The wolfpack moved to the allotment after cattle started grazing there.
The ranch has tried to adjust to wolves, including by adding more range riders and delaying putting cattle on the range until calves are larger and less vulnerable to wolves, according to the department.
“We have seen an increase in the non-lethal deterrence tools this producer has used over the years,” Martorello said.
Diamond M rancher Len McIrvin told the Capital Press this week that the ranch may lose 70 to 80 cattle this summer to wolves.