A Palouse farmer who chased and killed a wolf in a crop field last October has been given what wolf advocates are calling a sweet deal by Whitman County prosecutor Denis Tracy.
Jonathan M. Rasmussen, 38, killed the wolf in Whitman County on Oct. 14. Wolves are endangered under Washington state law, and killing them can bring a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. But 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.
Tracy said Tuesday that he tried to dismiss the emotional pleas from each side. He received emails from people as far away as Australia who insisted that Rasmussen should be imprisoned, he said, as well as from others who insisted wolves have no place in Whitman County.
“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.
But state wildlife officials expressed concern with the sentence.
“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.”
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 a wolf.
Fish and Wildlife police said the wolf had not been reported as threatening people, pets or livestock.
“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,” said the case report released to reporters. “(He) stated that he thought if the wolf was allowed to live it would kill animals in the future.”
Rasmussen’s attorney, Roger Sandberg of Pullman, noted that his client also forfeited his gun and scope, worth a total of $1,200.
“I’m sure there are people that think it’s too lenient. I’m sure there are people who think it’s too harsh,” Sandberg said. “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.”