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UPDATED: Palouse farmer who killed wolf offered $100 deal by Whitman County prosecutor

Updated 9/15/15 at 5:30 p.m. with AP coverage at end of post — "Wildlife officers disappointed in fine" — and confirmation of firearm forfeiture.

ENDANGERED SPECIES — A Palouse farmer who chased down and killed a wolf in a crop field on Oct. 12, 2014, has been given what wolf advocates are calling a sweet deal by Whitman County prosecutor Denis Tracy.

According to the Capital Press, Jonathan Rasmussen, 38, has been charged with killing a state endangered species, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The farmer won’t face criminal prosecution for shooting a gray wolf if he pays $100 and commits no further game violations for the next six months,Tracy, announced today.

The rifle used to kill the wolf — a Remington Model 700 in .300 Weatherby equipped with a Leupold scope — was seized by Washington Fish and Wildlife officers at the time of the incident. Rasmussen's lawyer said the firearm worth a total of $1,200 has been forfeited.

“We expected more from the prosecutor’s office,” Capt. Dan Rahn, of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police, told the Associated Press. “This was in a rural area, and the defendant basically chased the animal down with his vehicle, trying to keep up with it and shooting at it in various locations. It wasn’t threatening anything or anybody.”

“I recognize that the shooting of a wolf generates strong emotions in some people, and depending on the person, those emotions run either in support of such as act or opposed to such an act,” Tracy said in a written statement.

State Fish and Wildlife police turned the evidence in the case over to the county prosecutor on Nov. 19.  The original WDFW report said the man, with his wife in the vehicle, chased the wolf in a vehicle and shot it in a farm field about 15 miles southwest of Pullman. Rasmussen called 911 to relay a report to wildlife officials that he had killed wolf.

Tracy said he's heard from wolf advocates urging stiff prosecution while others in the public backed Rasmussen for protecting public safety as well as his animals.

However, Fish and Wildlife police said the wolf had not been reported as threatening people, pets or livestock.  The case report released to reporters said: “He at no point indicated that he thought he or his family was in imminent danger or that the animals at the horse barn were in immediate danger of being attacked. (He) stated that he thought if the wolf was allowed to live it would kill animals in the future.”

In an interview with the Capital Press, Tracy said the public interest and public passion in the case didn’t influence his decision, but it was one reason the case took 11 months to resolve.

“Their impact was to cause me to be very careful,” he told the reporter. “I thought about this case and how to resolve it for quite sometime.”

Tracy said he concluded that giving Rasmussen the option of paying what Tracy estimated were the administrative costs for handing the case was justified for several reasons, but that it was not a case of yielding to local sentiment.

Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest said the case proves that gray wolf recovery in Washington is not ready to be put in the hands of local governments.

“The prosecutor seemed to base his decision on a perception that the defense could argue that this wolf, the first seen in Whitman County in almost a century, was a public danger solely on the basis of it having existed," Friedman told Northwest Sportsman. "Mr. Tracy therefore is now the poster child for the case for retaining federal listing. ”

Here's a followup story from Associated Press reporter Gene Johnson, with reaction to the deal from Washington Fish and Wildlife police.

State game officials disappointed with deal in wolf killing

SEATTLE (AP) — Conservationists and state game officials said Tuesday that a prosecutor in Eastern Washington went too easy on a man who chased a protected gray wolf with his car for several miles, then shot and killed the animal.

Jonathan M. Rasmussen killed the wolf in Whitman County last October. Wolves are endangered under Washington state law, and killing them can bring a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. But Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy said this week that if Rasmussen pays $100 and doesn’t commit other fish or game violations for six months, a misdemeanor charge against him will be dismissed.

“We expected more from the prosecutor’s office,” said Capt. Dan Rahn, of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police. “This was in a rural area, and the defendant basically chased the animal down with his vehicle, trying to keep up with it and shooting at it in various locations. It wasn’t threatening anything or anybody.”

That said, he added, it was the prosecutor’s call: “It’s ultimately up to the prosecutor to make the decision, and there’s not much we can do about it. We’ll continue to work with them in a positive direction.”

Wolves were hunted to extinction at the beginning of the last century in Washington, but since the early 2000s, the animals have been returning to the state from Idaho and Canada. The increasing numbers have brought increasing conflicts — and inflamed tensions — with ranchers in the eastern part of the state. Across Eastern Washington, “wildlife conflict” specialists have been working with ranchers to help them protect their livestock, while field biologists capture and fit wolves with radio-collars to improve state monitoring efforts.

In an interview Tuesday, Tracy said he tried to dismiss the emotional pleas from each side. He received emails from people as far away from Australia who insisted that Rasmussen should be imprisoned, he said, as well as from others who insisted wolves have no place in Whitman County, which is full of farmland but no wilderness.

“In the end, what I did was set aside the strong feelings and focus on the facts of the case and the law,” he said.

First-offense hunting misdemeanors commonly wind up with similar resolutions around the state, Tracy said, even if the killing of a wolf is unusual.

Rasmussen’s attorney, Roger Sandberg of Pullman, noted that his client also forfeited his gun and scope, worth a total of $1,200.

As for criticism of the deal, he said, “I’m sure there are people that think it’s too lenient. I’m sure there are people who think it’s too harsh. This is a resolution that is consistent with many other cases that have been resolved.”

Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, said he didn’t think Rasmussen should have received jail time for a first offense, but the $100 penalty was too light. He argued that with the cost of a hunting license and wolf tag, it would have cost Rasmussen more to legally kill a wolf in neighboring Idaho, where hunting the animals is allowed, than to kill one illegally in Washington.

“It sends a terrible signal,” he said. “It says it’s OK to shoot wolves. They’re a state endangered species.”

Gray wolf news updates 11-26-2014

PREDATORS — It's been a quiet week in the region some people would like to call Wolfbegone.

But here are a few notes about the species as wolves continues to recover their native range in the Northwest.

A Whitman County wolf shooting case is in the hands of county prosecutor Denis Tracy.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife turned its evidence over to the prosecutor on Nov. 19 with the possibility that the man who shot a wolf around Oct. 12 could be charged with a misdemeanor for killing an animal that's protected in far-Eastern Washington by state endangered species laws. The agency turned over the evidence after receiving DNA lab results that confirmed the animal was a wolf and not a wolf hybrid.
Tracy's office staff said today that the prosecutor is still investigating the case before making the decision on whether to prosecute the case. The identity of the shooter has not been released although WDFW officers described the man as a county farmer. The original WDFW report said the man chased the wolf in a vehicle and shot it in a Palouse farm field about 15 miles southwest of Pullman.
"We're not recommending anything," said Steve Crown, Fish and Wildlife Department chief. "We're simply referring the facts of the case in our report. It's up to the prosecutor to examine the facts and the case law and decide whether to bring charges."
Making the decision to prosecute is a big deal.
  • Although exemptions are made for killing a wolf to protect life or livestock, unlawful taking of a state endangered species is punishable by sentences of up to a year in jail and fines up to $5,000.

  • The only wolf-killing case to be prosecuted in Washington resulted in Twisp ranching family members being ordered to pay fines totaling $50,000 in 2012 for killing two Lookout Pack wolves in 2008.

A Kittitas County wolf-killing case remains under investigation. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Brent Lawrence said Tuesday no arrests have been made in the October shooting of an adult breeding female belonging to the Teanaway Pack near Salmon la Sac. Conservation groups have offered a $15,000 reward in the case.

The wolf was found by state and federal wildlife officials Oct. 28 in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The female was wearing a telemetry collar and was shot in the hindquarters. Investigators say she likely was killed around Oct. 17.

USFWS is leading the investigation because the shooting occurred in the two-thirds of the state in which wolves are federally protected. Wolves also are protected state endangered species laws.

An unlawful taking of a federal endangered species is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

A hunter was cleared for shooting at stalking wolf on Oct. 30 in Stevens County.The animal ran way, but the hunter reported to officials that he thought it had been hit.

A Smackout Pack wolf was found dead Feb. 9 near Cedar Lake in northeast Stevens County. Conservation groups joined with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to offer a $22,500 reward for information about the case. However, the case still has not been solved.

An anti-wolf group called  Washington Residents Against Wolves has initiated an billboard campaign in Spokane.

BLM has denied a permit for a predator derby based out of Salmon, Idaho. Organizers say they'll hold the derby on national forest land.

The first gray wolf in northern Arizona in more than 70 years was confirmed by wildlife officials this week. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Jeff Humphrey said Friday that analysis of the animal’s scat shows it’s from the Northern Rockies population at least 450 miles away. It was first spotted by a tourist in early November.

Palouse Wind farm to power 30,000 homes via Avista

Avista will buy power from the proposed Palouse Wind project in Whitman County, the company said today.

The Spokane-based utility will receive about 40 average megawatts of renewable energy, and as much as 100 megawatts, from the wind farm, which is being developed by First Wind, an independent wind energy company.

Avista said it will receive the first power from the wind turbines next year, kicking off a 30-year power purchase agreement.

The energy qualifies under Washington State’s Energy Independence Act to meet Avista’s state-mandated requirements for renewable energy. The company said it expects to recover the cost of buying the wind power through retail rates.

Lower wind power costs and continuing tax incentives make this an excellent time to make long-term wind power deals, said Dick Storro, vice president of Energy Resources for Avista.

“Palouse Wind will help Avista meet its goal of providing reliable energy to our customers at a reasonable cost, while meeting renewable portfolio standards, now and in the future,” Storro said.

The wind farm will be the largest renewable energy facility in Whitman County, with the capacity to generate power for about 30,000 homes of Avista customers. It will go on private land between Oakesdale and State Route 195, capturing the prevailing southwest wind.

Arrested Aryan Has Food Stand Ties

Two days later, he titled his post “North Idaho five weeks and going …” and said he was working to bring “the mexican taco cart foothold to the attention of the locals here in couer d’alene/Hayden.”

The FBI has arrested a Whitman County man on federal drug charges. Jeremiah Daniel “J.D.” Hop, who describes himself as an anti-race mixing activist on the racist website Vanguard News Network, is accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Investigators are searching Hop’s home near Pullman right now, as well as another property in Whitman County associated with the suspect, said Don Robinson, supervisor for the FBI’s Coeur d’Alene office. Hop, who was arrested this morning, is not a member of the Aryan Nations but is involved in racist circles, Robinson said. Hop, 29, is to appear before a federal magistrate in Spokane Thursday morning/Meghann Cuniff, SR. More here.