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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inslee orders new wolf removal rules in Washington

A gray wolf is photographed by a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife game camera.  (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered wildlife officials to draft new rules for dealing with wolf-livestock conflicts, delivering a win to environmental groups seeking stricter limits on wolf kills.

The governor granted an appeal from several environmental groups that sought to overturn the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s rejection of the groups’ petition seeking changes to how the state deals with wolves that attack or kill livestock.

The groups were asking for a suite of changes to how Washington deals with wolf predation. Their petition called for a prohibition on wolf kills on public land, stronger requirements for livestock producers to use nonlethal wolf deterrents and changes to a rule that allows landowners to kill wolves “caught in the act” of attacking domestic animals.

The governor’s decision doesn’t say what the new rules would be, instead simply ordering the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to begin writing the new rules. WDFW said in a news release that it would comply, and that its staff will meet with the commission to determine the process and timing.

The groups behind the petition and the appeal cheered the governor’s decision on Friday.

“Today is a significant victory, both for Washington’s wolves and for our campaign to ensure that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife makes management decisions based on the best available science rather than in response to demands by entrenched special interests,” Claire Loebs Davis, president of Washington Wildlife First, said in a news release.

WDFW estimates that the state has at least 216 wolves across 37 packs. Officials have a set of protocols they follow when a wolf attacks livestock, including thresholds that have to be met before they can consider killing the wolf.

In 2023, the agency logged 22 incidents of conflict between wolves and domestic animals. Two wolves were killed by wildlife officials after repeatedly attacking livestock. That’s relatively light compared to some past years – in 2019, WDFW removed nine wolves.

But wolf advocates argue that too many wolves have been killed in the past decade over run-ins with livestock. Since 2012, 53 wolves have been killed, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The center and Washington Wildlife First joined with nine other groups to file the petition with the commission in September. The petition asked WDFW for a set of specific rules that would replace the existing protocols.

Some items suggested by the groups mirror WDFW’s existing policies, but others go further. One would bar lethal removal for wolves that attack livestock grazing on public lands, and another would prohibit wolf kills that might lead to pups being orphaned.

Wildlife commissioners voted 6-3 to reject the petition in October. The groups filed their appeal in late November.