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By Eli Francovich
Kill fewer wolves.
That was the message Gov. Jay Inslee sent to Washington’s wildlife management agency in a letter, Monday.
“We must find new methods to better support co-existence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state,” Inslee said in the letter. “The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable.”
Inslee acknowledges that in most cases Washington’s wolves are existing peacefully with livestock and people. According to agency statistics 90% of Washington’s wolves aren’t causing problems. He also praised the state’s Wolf Advisory Group, which has members representing cattle, conservation and business interests.
However, in northeast Washington it’s been a summer of conflict with wolves killing and injuring cattle, prompting the state and, in some case, ranchers to kill wolves, in turn prompting environmental groups to sue the state.
In response to the state-ordered killings, Inslee urged a reexamination of policy and procedure in parts of northeast Washington where WDFW has repeatedly killed wolves charged with attacking cattle.
“For reasons that are not entirely clear, numerous conflicts with livestock producers have occurred in a handful of federal grazing allotments,” the letter states.
He also asked WDFW to work more closely with the U.S. Forest Service to work to reduce such conflicts with wolves, “including changes in allotment policies for public lands that are prime wolf habitat, the addition of more intensive range riding, and other proven or promising methods.”
Inslee requested WDFW respond to his requests by Dec. 1.
WDFW responded to the letter by issuing a statement that said reducing wolf kills “ is a top priority” for the agency and that the repeated depredations in the Kettle Range is “greatly impacting” all involved.
“The forest conditions and livestock operations in this particular landscape make it extremely challenging, and unfortunately, has resulted in repeated lethal removal actions,” WDFW’s statement said. “We all share the perspective that something has to change to reduce the loss of both wolves and livestock in this area. WDFW believes this is consistent with the Governor’s request.”
In an email, WDFW spokeswoman Staci Lehman said no immediate changes have been made and “there will be discussion in the coming weeks to see what/if anything changes.”
WDFW killed all members of the Old Profanity Territory wolf pack this summer, after repeated cattle attacks on public land. That pack inhabited the geographic area formerly occupied by the Profanity Peak pack until the state killed seven pack members in 2016.
Wolf advocates and others have questioned whether that land, which is particularly thick and steep, is suitable for grazing. A lawsuit filed by three individuals and supported by a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group alleges that the cattle ranchers and the state did not use nonlethal deterrents prior to ordering the killing of the OPT pack.
WDFW has also ordered the killing of wolves in the Togo pack and the Grouse Flats pack, although as of Tuesday the state hadn’t killed any of those wolves.
Inslee’s letter was greeted enthusiastically by Chris Bachman, wildlife program director at the Spokane-based Lands Council.
“It’s been pretty amazing and pretty emotional,” he said. “I think that’s a huge success for conservation and for the wolf.”
Bachman has written Inslee a number of letters questioning whether non-lethal deterrents were being used and if the thick, steep terrain is a suitable place to graze cattle.
Inslee’s letter, Bachman said, gives his group and others “leverage” to push change in WDFW policy and procedure.
Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, also supported the letter and its message.
“Our core position is that the collaborative process and nonlethal deterrents are the answers,” he said. “As long as the governor and other political, elected officials are making statements in line with that, I’m happy.”
More money is already being funneled into nonlethal measures this year after passage of a new law that directs the state to spend nearly $1 million over the next two years on nonlethal deterrents in northeastern Washington.
The letter comes after several out-of-state groups have publicly campaigned Inslee and the state to change how it manages wolves.
The Center for a Humane Economy, an animal-welfare group based in Washington D.C., ran a full-page ad in the Seattle Times July 21 protesting the state’s handling of wolf-cattle conflicts.
Some in northeast Washington view suchoutside pressure as out-of-touch and provocative.
“I think it’s people from hundreds of miles away throwing hand grenades,” Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, told the Northwest Sportsman in response to Inslee’s letter.
Kretz did not respond to a call seeking further comment Tuesday.
Stevens County commissioner Don Dashiell said he sees the governor’s letter as a political move.
“He’s just gotten enough pressure from wolf advocates to think he has to say something about it,” he said.
Dashiell doesn’t expect it to change much.
“It wasn’t like the department was running around killing wolves all over the place,” he said “So how can we tell the difference?”
Friedman with Conservation Northwest acknowledged that some stakeholders may see Inslee’s letter as overreach but said hehopes it doesn’t cause critics to “disengage” from the Wolf Advisory Group’s collaborative process.
“It might bruise feelings for a bit, but it’s truthful,” Friedman said. “I think we’re all adults and we’ll play our roles, and hopefully we find solutions together to face the challenge and come through it.”