Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday directed the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to draft new rules governing the department’s lethal removal of wolves involved in conflicts with livestock.
The action reverses the commission’s denial of a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in May that called for reform of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s lethal wolf-management policies.
Conservation groups and wildlife advocates lauded the governor’s action.
In his letter to Larry Carpenter, the chair of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, Inslee said, “The potential for future depredations and lethal control actions, under our existing framework, remains unacceptably high.
“We must move more quickly and decisively to institute practices that will avoid the repeated loss of wolves and livestock in our state.”
Inslee directed the commission to create four “management outcomes”:
- A standardized definition and requirements for the use of range riders.
- Requirements for use of nonlethal deterrents most appropriate for specified situations.
- Action plans in areas of chronic depredation to end the need for annual lethal removal.
- Compliance measures where livestock operators do not implement the required nonlethal measures.
Inslee also provided a timeline for when he’d like to see that accomplished.
“Given the significant work that has been done to date on this topic, I strongly believe new rules and policies could, and should, be adopted and in place prior to the grazing season next year,” he said.
The conflict surrounding wolves in the state, and particularly in Northeast Washington, has continued this summer.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife has issued lethal removal orders for two wolf packs in that region and successfully removed three wolves from the Wedge Pack, eliminating the two remaining members of that pack on Aug. 13.
Earlier this month, Tim Coleman, executive director of Kettle Range Conservation Group, was removed from the Wolf Advisory Group, a group that advises the Fish and Wildlife department on wolf management issues.
Following Coleman’s dismissal, environmental groups called on Inslee to reform wolf management in Washington.
This has been the second straight contentious summer for wolves and livestock in Northeast Washington.
Conservation groups praised the governor’s action on Friday.
“Demonstrating a commitment to environmental leadership, Gov. Inslee has put the Department on notice: It’s time for better rules, and public transparency, when it comes to Washington’s iconic wolves,” said Samantha Bruegger, Wildlife Coexistence Campaigner at WildEarth Guardians, via statement. “The killing of the entire Wedge Pack this year was unacceptable; it has happened before and it should never happen again.”
The new rules will address the use of science-backed non-lethal measures to avoid livestock-wolf conflicts. They will likely further examine chronic conflict areas where the state has killed wolves year after year.
The state has lethally removed 34 wolves since 2012. Of that, 29 were killed for the same livestock owner in prime wolf habitat in the Colville National Forest. After the Fish and Wildlife Commission denied the wolf advocates’ petition in June, the groups appealed to the governor, who had 45 days to decide whether to deny the appeal or require the commission to create new wolf-management rules.
Gov. Inslee’s decision requires the commission to start a formal rulemaking process, which includes giving notice to the public and creating an opportunity to comment on proposed rules. The timeline for this process will be available on the department’s website when the rulemaking is announced.
“The governor’s decision to approve this petition is a necessary step in cleaning up the mess the Department has made of wolf management,” said Jocelyn Leroux, Washington and Montana director for Western Watersheds Project. “This decision will give a voice to the majority of Washingtonians that do not want to see wolves needlessly slaughtered year after year at the charge of a few livestock producers.”
“This is a tremendous victory for Washington’s wolves and all of us who have been speaking out against the state’s relentless wolf-killing,” said Sophia Ressler, a Washington wildlife advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re hopeful that the development of enforceable wolf-management rules will finally protect our recovering wolf population and make wildlife officials accountable to the public they serve.”
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