SPOKANE – An environmental group is suing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for access to some public records on wolf deaths in the state.
The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking records about the killing of a wolf from the Smackout Pack this summer and the killing of nearly the entire Profanity Peak pack in 2016.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Thurston County Superior Court.
“The public has every right to know how and why wolves are being killed in Washington,” said Amaroq Weiss, wolf advocate for the center. “It’s frustrating that state wildlife officials won’t come clean with the full details on these lethal operations.”
Bruce Botka, a spokesman for the Department of Fish and Wildlife in Olympia, said the agency did not comment on the filing of legal complaints and had not yet reviewed the lawsuit with attorneys.
Wolves are listed as endangered by the state in the eastern third of Washington, where they are relatively abundant, and have federal endangered species protection in the western two-thirds of the state.
Gray wolves were hunted to extinction in Washington early in the past century. But the animals started migrating into the state in the early 2000s from Idaho and Canada.
At the end of 2016, the state estimated there were a minimum of 115 wolves, 20 packs and 10 successful breeding pairs in the state. All of the documented wolf packs are east of the Cascade Range.
The state has killed 18 wolves since 2012, the center said.
This summer, the state issued new rules that allow the Department of Fish and Wildlife to move more quickly when a wolf pack begins preying on livestock.
Under the new rules, a hunt can be initiated if there are at least three attacks by wolves on livestock within 30 days, or four events within 10 months, including one that was not confirmed to be caused by wolves. The previous rules allowed a hunt only after at least four confirmed attacks by wolves over a year or six over two years.
The state rules also require the expectation that attacks will continue, and that the killing of problem wolves is not expected to harm the animals’ ability to reach statewide recovery goals.
On June 30, a wolf from the Smackout Pack was killed by a ranch hand, the center said. The Department of Fish and Wildlife reported that the wolf was caught in the act of attacking livestock and that the killing complied with state law.
But the department has so far refused to release documents related to the killing or subsequent investigation, the center said.
Last week, the agency announced that another wolf was killed on Oct. 27, again allegedly while caught in the act of attacking livestock, the center said.
“Each gray wolf killed in Washington makes state wildlife officials’ lack of transparency all the more troubling,” Weiss said.
The agency has also failed to turn over records sought by the center about the 2016 killing of the Profanity Peak Pack in response to livestock depredations, the center said.
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