Livestock-killing wolves safe, for now
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
August 23, 2018
A Thurston County Superior Court (Washington) judge on Aug. 20, 2018, issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) from lethally removing one or more wolves from the Togo pack in northern Ferry County.
Earlier in the day, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind had authorized the staff to take lethal action in response to multiple confirmed livestock depredations by the pack since last November, including three confirmed incidents in the last 30 days.
Judge Chris Lanese granted the restraining order sought by the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands, which filed the request for injunction following Susewind’s authorization of lethal action. The judge said the plaintiffs’ complaint met the criteria for a temporary restraining order under the state Administrative Procedures Act.
Lanese told WDFW and the plaintiffs to return to court on Aug. 31 for a hearing on a preliminary injunction, to determine whether to replace the restraining order with a longer-lasting court order. In announcing his decision, Lanese specified that his ruling applied only to the Togo lethal removal decision.
Earlier the same day, WDFW had released the following statement: State wildlife managers plan to take lethal action to respond to livestock depredations by the Togo wolf pack on federal grazing lands in northern Ferry County.
Kelly Susewind, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), authorized field staff to take lethal measures to remove one or more members of the Togo wolf pack, which has preyed on cattle on six separate occasions in the Kettle River Range since last November.
Donny Martorello, WDFW's lead wolf manager, said the department’s field staff documented three of those depredations by pack members in the past 30 days. The Togo pack, whose presence was first suspected in 2016 and confirmed last February, has at least two adult members and an unknown number of pups. Wildlife managers have monitored the pack’s movements since June, when the adult male was captured and fitted with a tracking collar.
Susewind said the department's response is consistent with Washington's Wolf Conservation and Management Plan of 2011, which authorizes WDFW to consider lethal action to address repeated attacks by wolves on livestock.
"I have reviewed the pack’s pattern of depredation along with the department’s wolf plan and wolf-livestock interaction protocol, and have concluded this action is warranted," Susewind said. "The evidence shows that non-lethal measures have not been successful, and the pack will continue preying on livestock unless we take action to change its behavior."
Under the protocol developed in conjunction with WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group, the department can consider lethal action against a wolf pack if the pack repeatedly kills or injures livestock three times within a 30-day period or four times in 10 months. Ranchers who sustain those losses must have used at least two approved non-lethal measures to protect their livestock to be considered for an authorization for lethal action.
Based on a recent court order, the department must provide one business day (8 court hours) advance public notice before initiating lethal action on wolves. Consequently, the department will initiate lethal removal efforts no earlier than 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20.
Martorello said the last three depredations occurred within a 30-day period and met the department’s guidelines for considering lethal action. The department has documented six depredations by the Togo pack since last fall, and five met the department’s expectations for employing non-lethal conflict prevention measures.
The rancher whose herd sustained the last three depredations has taken several steps to discourage wolf predation. At the start of the grazing season, he delayed turnout until late June so the calves would be larger and used bright strobe lights on his private pasture to deter wolves. Following turnout, he has removed sick or injured cattle from the allotment and deployed one or more range riders each day to help him check on his cattle. He has also moved his cattle when necessary to avoid wolves.
The Togo pack is one of 22 wolf packs and a minimum of 122 wolves documented in Washington state by WDFW as of March 2018. Annual surveys have shown the population growing at a rate of about 30 percent each year.