State officials ordered the lethal removal of wolves from the Togo pack in northeast Washington on Monday. However, environmental groups quickly filed a lawsuit temporarily blocking the action.
The order comes after six documented cattle depredations in the past 10 months by the Togo pack. Three of those cattle kills occurred within the past 30 days. The most recent documented depredation occurred two weeks ago when one or more wolves injured a calf on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment in Ferry County, according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife news release.
“I have reviewed the pack’s pattern of depredation along with the department’s wolf plan and wolf-livestock interaction protocol, and have concluded this action is warranted,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind in the release. “The evidence shows that non-lethal measures have not been successful, and the pack will continue preying on livestock unless we take action to change its behavior.”
Two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands, filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order to stop the killing. The lawsuit alleges that WDFW “relied upon a faulty protocol and failed to undergo required environmental analysis.”
The suit was filed in Thurston County Superior Court. A judge temporarily halted WDFW’s plans Monday afternoon and set a preliminary injunction hearing for Aug. 31. At that time a judge will rule whether to replace the temporary restraining order with a longer-lasting order. The order only applies to the Togo pack decision.
“It’s outrageous that Washington wildlife officials want to kill more wolves from the state’s small and recovering wolf population,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center’s West Coast wolf advocate, in a news release.
The Center for Biological Diversity is based in Arizona and Cascadia Wildlands is based in Oregon.
Chris Bachman, wildlife program director at the Spokane-based Lands Council, worked with The Center for Biological Diversity and supports the lawsuit, although the Lands Council is not formally involved in the suit.
Bachman questioned whether the appropriate nonlethal deterrents were used by ranchers. And he believes WDFW has not been “transparent enough” about the process leading up to Monday’s decision.
Seattle-based Conservation Northwest supports WDFW’s decision.
“We are just supporting the wolf advisory group and the state protocol devised there,” said Jay Shepherd, the wolf program lead for Conservation Northwest. “(We’re) trying to get these situations to become less volatile.”
Shepherd, who also co-founded the Northeast Washington Wolf-Cattle Collaborative, works closely with ranchers in northeast Washington. He said the rancher who has lost cattle two weeks ago has done everything he can to prevent wolf attacks.
If allowed by the judge, WDFW officials will use “humane lethal removal methods,” according to the WDFW release. Department policy calls for incremental removal of pack members. If the pack stops posing a threat to cattle the remainder of the pack could be spared.
The pack is estimated to include two adult wolves and an unknown number of pups. Lethal removal efforts were scheduled to start eight business hours following the agency order.
The lawsuit argues, among other things, that WDFW is not using the latest science to make decisions.
Weiss referenced a 2018 study that found that killing wolves may help ranchers in the immediate area but actually pushes the wolves to other areas and does not reduce overall incidents.
A 2014 study found killing wolves actually led to more dead sheep and cows the following year. The study was authored by controversial former Washington State University professor Rob Wielgus.
Following the Sherman Pack action, a judge ruled that WDFW must wait eight court hours between the announcement of a lethal action order and the execution of the order.
This is the first time an environmental group has challenged a kill order before any action has been taken, Weiss said.
“It’s a great day for wolves today in Washington,” she said.
WDFW’s lethal removal policy allows killing wolves if they prey on livestock three times in a 30-day period or four times in a 10-month period. That policy was developed in 2016 by WDFW and its 18-member Wolf Advisory Group, which represents the concerns of environmentalists, hunters and livestock ranchers.
The policy also stipulates that cattle producers have employed at least two proactive deterrence techniques. Lethal control is allowed in the eastern third of the state where wolves are protected by state endangered species rules. Wolves remain federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state.
Susewind delayed action last week in an effort to get more information about the pack.
“The structure of that pack really affects when and how if you do lethal removal,” he said in an interview last week.
Despite losses of roughly a dozen wolves a year from selective state-authorized lethal control, plus poaching, vehicle collisions and other human-related causes, Washington’s wolf population has grown each year. A minimum of 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs was reported by the WDFW this winter.