Divided over strategy, wildlife conservation groups agree the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is too secretive about its killing of wolves.
By Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times environment reporter
They are divided over the best strategy to recover wolves in Washington. But 14 conservation groups joined together Friday to send a letter to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, protesting secrecy in its management of wolves.
The letter, signed by wildlife conservation groups across Washington, was issued after the department released a five-word account of its ongoing kill operation of the Smackout Pack in northeastern Washington, to protect ranchers’ cattle.
The report last week, followed with a similar report this week, revealed only that two wolves so far have been killed, omitting any details of the operation.
That followed a July 14 report that belatedly revealed four wolves had died in Washington over the past year, including two under circumstances still being investigated. That was at least six weeks and in some instances months after the department had the information.
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The letter was sent to Donny Martorello, wolf-policy lead for the department. Last week he told The Seattle Times the department was withholding information on its operations on the Smackout pack until a final report at an unspecified time to “keep the temperature down,” in the interest of public safety.
He could not be reached Friday for comment on the letter.
“That little five-word statement was just a slap in the face,” said Nick Cady, of Cascadia Wildlands, about the department’s report on the Smackout Pack. “You are a public agency, spending the public’s money to kill the public’s wolves. You have responsibilities and obligations to inform the public.”
Amaroq Weiss, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the department’s management of information about its wolf operations “is a huge step backward. It inflames the public to be treated like children.”
Members of the Wolf Advisory Group who worked with the agency all winter to craft its information policy for this season stated in the letter the agency was not living up to the parameters agreed to.
“We are concerned the department has chosen to withhold basic information regarding the operation that would not compromise safety,” the letter stated. “We do not agree with the department’s interpretation of the 2017 revised protocol … the department’s decision to only release the number of wolves killed is an unnecessary and inappropriate retreat from the level of transparency in previous (wolf) removal actions.”
Rowland Thompson, executive director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, representing more than 20 publications across Washington, said the agency needs to be transparent.
“If you don’t tell anybody what is going on, nobody trusts anybody,” Thompson said. “They need to give out this information so people know what happened, and can make up their own minds about it. Not only the public, but legislators and the people making policy about this issue need to know.”
Signing the letter were the Center for Biological Diversity; Defenders of Wildlife; Conservation Northwest; Cascadia Wildlands; Eastern Washington Wolf Coalition; Endangered Species Coalition; Kettle Range Conservation Group; Lands Council, Mountain Lion Foundation; the Washington State director for the Humane Society of the United States; the wildlife director for the Washington State Sierra Club; Western Environmental Law Center; Western Wildlife Conservation; Wildlands Network; and Wolf Haven International.