OLYMPIA, Wash.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife today over its refusal to fully release public records on wolf deaths in the state.
Today’s lawsuit was filed in Superior Court of Washington for Thurston County. The records include details about the killing of a Smackout pack wolf by a ranch employee this summer and the killing of nearly the entire Profanity Peak pack in 2016.
“The public has every right to know how and why wolves are being killed in Washington,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf advocate for the Center. “Wolves are still in a fragile state in Washington. It’s frustrating that state wildlife officials won’t come clean with the full details on these lethal operations.”
On June 30, a wolf from the Smackout pack was killed by a ranch hand. 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. In response to requests by the Center under the state open records law, however, the department has so far refused to release documents related to the killing or subsequent investigation. This refusal is particularly troubling because last Friday the agency announced that another wolf was killed on Oct. 27, again allegedly while caught in the act of attacking livestock.
“Each gray wolf killed in Washington makes state wildlife officials’ lack of transparency all the more troubling,” said Weiss. “The killing of wolves should never be taken lightly, but particularly not while they remain an endangered species in Washington.”
The agency has also failed to turn over records sought by the Center about the 2016 killing of the Profanity Peak pack wolves. Many questions remain about the state’s move to kill this pack in response to livestock depredations. Rancher Len McIrvin, a stated opponent of wolf recovery, had turned cattle out and placed salt blocks close to the pack’s den site.
The Center and a co-plaintiff already have another lawsuit pending against the agency for its arbitrary killing of a Sherman pack wolf in August under the auspices of a wolf-livestock interaction protocol the agency adopted in June. However, the state wildlife agency did not conduct environmental reviews required under state law.
“It’s unacceptable for a state agency charged with managing the public’s endangered wolves to stonewall and refuse to release records on the killing of those wolves,” Weiss said. “The agency can’t hide pertinent information by conducting a cursory search when records are requested. The department says it wants to be transparent, but that’s clearly not the case.”
In May 2016, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials adopted a “wolf lethal control protocol” which the agency then used to order the killing of the Profanity Peak pack for livestock conflicts. Many members of the public were outraged to learn that placement of salt blocks for cattle was close to key locations used by the wolves for den or rendezvous sites, which resulted in conflicts that led to wolf deaths.
Then, in June 2017, agency officials adopted a revised “wolf-livestock interaction protocol” for determining when to kill wolves in response to livestock conflicts.
Overall, since 2012, the state has killed 18 state-endangered wolves, nearly 16 percent of the state’s current confirmed population of 115 wolves. Fifteen of the wolves killed since 2012 were killed on behalf of the same livestock owner. Those kills have now led to the near-eradication of three entire wolf packs, including the Profanity Peak pack last year and the Wedge pack in 2012. The rancher in question has been a vocal opponent of wolf recovery and has historically refused to implement meaningful nonlethal measures designed to protect his livestock from wolves.
Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. The animals began to return from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s, and their population has grown to 20 confirmed packs as of the end of 2016.
But wolf recovery in Washington is still a work in progress. Wolves remain absent from large areas of the state and although the population has been growing, it remains small and vulnerable.
“Given the continued endangered status of wolves, the state and livestock operators should stick to nonlethal methods as the sole means for reducing loss of livestock to wolves,” Weiss said.
Plaintiffs are represented in the case by attorneys from the law firm Lane Powell.