OLYMPIA, Wash.— Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials late Thursday released a new protocol that would allow wolves to be killed too soon after incidents with livestock and without enough oversight.
The new “wolf-livestock interaction protocol” guides when the agency will move to kill wolves in response to livestock depredations. Conservation groups are concerned that the protocol allows wolves to be killed under dubious circumstances and lacks sufficient requirements for ranchers to exhaust nonlethal measures.
“This protocol fails to protect the state’s small wolf population or prioritize scientifically proven nonlethal measures to safeguard livestock,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wildlife officials should have left much more room for nonlethal measures and allowed for occasional livestock losses. Washington needs to protect its recovering wolf population — not make it easier to kill these amazing animals.”
Under the new protocol, a kill order for wolves is considered after three depredations (deaths or injury to livestock) in 30 days or four depredations in 10 months. Affected livestock owners are required to have tried at least two proactive measures to deter conflicts with wolves at the time the livestock losses took place, but there’s no requirement in terms of how long the measures must have been in place to determine if they have been effective.
This protocol would allow wolves to be killed even for livestock deaths not confirmed as caused by wolves; provides for the same threshold for killing wolves on public lands as on private lands; and does not have stringent requirements for keeping livestock away from known den and rendezvous sites where wolves raise their pups. There is also no requirement, only a recommendation, for human presence near livestock, despite it being one of the most effective means known to deter wolf-livestock conflicts.
The new protocol does increase the number of nonlethal measures required under last year’s protocol by one, and does indicate that if nonlethal measures are not in place long enough in advance of a depredation, the Department will only consider issuing a kill order for wolves at a higher number of events and after nonlethal measures have been tried and failed. The protocol also acknowledges the Department has a responsibility to manage wildlife in trust for the citizens of Washington, and not just on behalf of any one special-interest group. The Department has been increasing its outreach efforts to livestock owners, to seek voluntary implementation of conflict-deterrence measures.
“Sadly, this protocol is setting Washingtonians up to foot the bill for even more ill-advised, scientifically unjustified and extraordinarily costly wolf-killing operations in 2017 at the expense of wolf recovery,” said John Mellgren, staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “Although certain provisions are an improvement over last year’s protocol, it is worse in others, and does not provide the stringent requirements that a legally binding rule resulting from an official public process provides, nor the accountability and public disclosure that the public deserves.”
Under last year’s protocol, the state killed nearly an entire wolf pack, the Profanity Peak pack in Ferry County, despite failure by state Fish and Wildlife staff and a livestock owner to use appropriate nonlethal conflict-deterrence measures to prevent conflicts in the first place or to take adequate responsive measures to halt the conflicts. Four years earlier the state had killed another wolf pack on behalf of the same livestock owner, despite his refusal to use conflict deterrents. The cost to taxpayers was $74,500 to kill the Wedge pack in 2012, and more than $135,000 to kill members of the Profanity Peak wolf family in 2016.
The Profanity Peak pack kill operation lasted nearly 11 weeks and resulted in the deaths of seven of the pack’s 12 members, including the breeding female, a three-and-a-half to four-month-old pup and one female who was mortally wounded but not located and put out of her misery until three days after first having been shot. The public was outraged and called for a massive overhaul of the protocol, no more killing of wolves on public lands, and management actions aimed at conserving wolves instead of capitulating to the livestock industry.
This year’s protocol, and last year’s, were both crafted with input from a state Wolf Advisory Group, a stakeholder group convened by the Department of Fish and Wildlife that includes agency staff and some representatives of the ranching, hunting and conservation communities. However, the advisory group’s composition does not represent the diversity of views of Washington residents. Additionally, its role in helping the state craft wolf-management policies and protocols does not have the same requirements as regulations formally adopted by the state wildlife commission to provide notice to the public, opportunity to review a draft document and then submit written comments or provide testimony on the document, along with a requirement that public comments and testimony be considered before the protocol is finalized. The new protocol released today was not circulated to the public for review before being finalized.