A member of the state’s Wolf Advisory Group has been dismissed from the committee by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife director Kelly Susewind in the latest twist of hotly debated issues surround wolf-kill orders in northeast Washington.
Tim Coleman, executive director of Kettle Range Conservation Group, was removed Aug. 3.
Coleman had served on the advisory group since 2015 and was the only local conservationist to sit on the advisory group, which is made up largely of hunters and ranchers. He lives and works in northeast Washington where most of the state’s wolves live and where most livestock-wolf conflicts in the state have occurred.
Environmental groups Thursday called on Gov. Jay Inslee to reform wolf management in Washington after the sudden removal of Coleman.
Thursday’s letter urged Inslee to reject what it called “the Department’s resistance to reform” and calls for the crafting of a new state wolf protocol to be a public process.
Also Thursday, the WDFW issued a lethal removal order for “one to two wolves” in the Leadpoint Pack in Stevens County. According to the agency, the Leadpoint Pack has been involved in 11 depredations since June 19.
Coleman’s removal from the Wolf Advisory Group occurred last week before a scheduled two-day meeting where the group considered significant revisions to the Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol, which the WDFW relies on heavily when making decisions to kill wolves.
WDFW offered a statement related to Coleman’s ouster.
“By design, WAG members bring a diversity of perspectives to the table,” said Donny Martorello, wolf policy lead for WDFW. “The WAG process welcomes sharing varying views within a collaborative model that helps to bridge these differences. These discussions are open to the public, and everyone’s thoughts and opinions are welcome.”
WAG represents various interests across the state and is tasked with making recommendations on wolf management in Washington.
In a statement, Coleman said he was “devastated” by his dismissal, which came after some lobbied for his removal.
“I was honored to serve on the Wolf Advisory Group, where I was often the only voice speaking for those who believe wolves have a right to live in our state’s forests,” Coleman said.
“The WAG is supposed to bring a diversity of viewpoints together to try to find solutions. But the Department only wants members who will fall into line, even when it violates the protocol the WAG agreed to, and senselessly kills wolves to appease the livestock industry, like it did with the OPT pack last year. The WAG has just become a means for the Department to silence its critics by pretending to give them a seat at the table.”
In its dismissal letter, WDFW cited Coleman’s participation in lawsuits, protests, interviews and other core free-speech activities critical of the Department as the reason for his removal last week from the advisory group.
“For the benefit of the WAG process, I am therefore removing your membership, and we will seek a new representative from the environmental community for the WAG to ensure a diversity of wolf advocates continue to have a voice on this committee,” Susewind said in his letter to Coleman.
Conservation groups reacted on Thursday.
“Gov. Inslee should be gravely concerned by the appalling decision to remove such a knowledgeable voice from the Wolf Advisory Group,” said Amaroq Weiss, a West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The Department’s claims that the collaborative group was the best opportunity for robust public engagement was already questionable,” said Jocelyn Leroux, Washington and Montana director for Western Watersheds Project. “Now, the sudden removal of Tim Coleman makes it very clear that the department will go to great lengths to silence those that stand for best available science and wildlife conservation rather than reckless wolf slaughter.”
Several of the groups that sent Thursday’s letter also appealed a petition for rulemaking to Inslee in June. The appeal urged the governor to overturn the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s decision not to undergo public rulemaking and subsequent environmental analysis related to the issues of nonlethal deterrence and chronic conflict zones.
As part of this decision, Department staff cited the Wolf Advisory Group as providing a “robust opportunity for public participation.” According to a statement released by the conservation groups, during last week’s group meeting, “members of the public delivering comments critical of the Department and of Coleman’s ouster from the Wolf Advisory Group were cut off by the meeting facilitator.”
Coleman is exploring potential options for challenging the Department’s decision.
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