Lethal force permissible if predators caught attacking domestic animals
OLYMPIA – A wolf attacking livestock or pets in Eastern Washington can be killed immediately under an emergency rule adopted Friday by a state board.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission allowed Wildlife Director Phil Anderson to issue an emergency rule that lets owners, family members or employees kill one wolf “caught in the act” of attacking domestic animals.
The owner will have to notify the Department of Fish and Wildlife within 24 hours of the incident; the department will investigate the circumstances and take the wolf carcass. If wildlife agents determine the owner had a legitimate reason to kill the wolf, he or she will be issued a permit to kill another wolf under similar circumstances.
The commission was responding to concerns over a rapid increase in the number of wolves and wolf packs in Eastern Washington, and a request by legislators to provide emergency relief after a bill with similar provisions stalled.
Anderson told the board that states like Wyoming and Idaho, where similar rules have been in place for about 10 years, have seen relatively few wolves killed while attacking animals. The rules have not harmed recovery efforts of the formerly endangered predator, he said.
It’s rare for people to witness a wolf attacking another animal, because they generally hunt at night. Although wolves often hunt in packs, Anderson said, experts in other states with similar rules reported they knew of no instances in which a landowner needed to kill a second wolf to stop an attack on livestock or pets.
“After one is shot, the likelihood of others continuing the attack … is remote,” he said.
Wildlife officials inspecting a reported wolf killing will use the common dictionary definition of “attack” and won’t require that the domestic animal be severely injured before the wolf can be shot, he added.
Under the current wolf management plan, a commercial livestock owner must first attempt nonlethal methods to ward off predatory wolves before receiving a permit to kill one. There are no laws against killing a wolf attacking a person, which is extremely rare.
But with the recent growth in wolf packs in Eastern Washington, farmers, ranchers and other residents have reported increased attacks on domestic animals, many of which are family pets or livestock not raised commercially.
Commissioners said the new rule could actually help recovery efforts by easing tensions in Eastern Washington and discouraging wolves from hunting in areas frequented by humans.
The emergency rule is in place for 120 days and could be renewed for another 120. Over the summer the commission will study a permanent rule, which could change based on experience. It is scheduled to vote on a permanent rule in October.