How to Fight for Wolves in Washington
by Tjitske Dekker, NARN Legal Volunteer
According to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, “human-related mortality, particularly illegal killing and legal control actions to resolve conflicts, is the largest source of mortality for the species in the northwestern United States and illegal killing has already been documented in Washington.” When wolves cross paths with livestock and livestock are injured, the State may resolve this conflict by killing the wolves. Should officials in Washington state lethally remove wolves to protect irresponsible cattle grazing? If your answer is no, you are probably wondering what you can do to fight for wolves. Read on for a breakdown of how Washington State makes decisions regarding its wolf population and how you can speak up for wolves.
Wolves are listed as an endangered species throughout Washington under state law. Wolves are managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Because wolves have endangered status in Washington, the state is required to develop a recovery plan with objectives for downlisting the species. This is known as the “Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.” (“The Plan”) The Plan has four main goals:
- Recovery of the species,
- Reducing wolf-livestock conflict,
- Addressing interactions between wolves and native ungulates, and
- Promoting coexistence of livestock and wolves, and public understanding of wolf management.
The Plan indicates that “lethal removal may be used to stop repeated depredations if it is documented that livestock have clearly been killed by wolves, non- lethal methods have been tried but failed to resolve the conflict, depredations are likely to continue, and there is no evidence of intentional feeding or unnatural attraction of wolves by the livestock owner.” The Plan only permits the lethal removal of wolves if it is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach state-mandated recovery objectives.
Washington’s Wolf Advisory Group (WAG) is responsible for recommending strategies for reducing conflicts with wolves outlined in the Conservation and Management Plan. The group is mostly comprised of those representing ranchers and hunters. The WAG developed the Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol jointly with WDFW. The Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol describes the measures livestock producers and WDFW may take to reduce the risk of conflict between wolves and livestock. Measures livestock producers can take include having a greater human presence around livestock (range riders), avoiding den sites, and using deterrence mechanisms, such as scare devices, fencing, or guardian dogs.
Finally, the Governor appointed Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is a volunteer panel tasked with setting policy for the WDFW. The Commission holds regular public meetings online which are important because when we speak out for wolves, it is often through public comment opportunities provided by the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Update on the Togo Pack
On August 26, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind authorized WDFW staff to lethally remove one to two wolves from the Togo pack territory in response to depredations of cattle on public and private grazing lands in Ferry County. WDFW has not removed any wolves since the authorization but made attempts to do so. When WDFW attempts to remove wolves, an active attempt may last up to two weeks. Methodology includes shooting from a helicopter, trapping, and shooting from the ground. These methods are not just dangerous for the wolves, they are dangerous to the humans involved and very expensive for taxpayers. (You can read more about WDFW’s procedures here). If WDFW documents any additional livestock depredations, the Department may initiate another lethal removal attempt on the Togo Pack.
It is important for wolf activists to continue monitoring WDFW’s decisions for the Togo pack to protect them from lethal removal. You can follow the status of all the known packs in Washington here.
What You Can Do
1) Speak out at Commission hearings and submit written comments.
Typically, you can submit written comments as well as provide public verbal testimony in response to an agenda item at a meeting. For example, on Friday, October 22nd, many activists spoke before the Commission and also sent in written comments to oppose Spring bear hunting in Washington.
When speaking out for wolves, there are many points of interest you may discuss with your decision makers. For example, lethal removal harms the wolf population’s ability to reach recovery objectives. WDFW and the Fish and Wildlife Commission underestimate the impact of losing a pack member on the health of a local pack. Also, lethal removal is not a reliable method for preventing livestock depredations. Rather, they destabilize wolf packs and may make them more likely to depredate.
Finally, many of the measures recommended by the Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol are not prerequisites to lethal removal of wolves. The state lethally removes wolves for ranchers who have failed to take any steps to protect their livestock from depredation. For example, the complaints of the Diamond M Ranch have led to the killing of 18 wolves in the Colville National Forest in recent years. But this ranching operation grazes cattle in the National Forest, the ideal habitat for wolves. Their individual failure to protect their cattle from wolves has caused entirely preventable loss of life.
2) The Wolf Action Group publishes future meetings and public comment opportunities on their meeting calendar.
3) Take Action for Wolves via NARN’s Action Alerts
NARN is run by activists just like you who care about wildlife in Washington. Action alerts are published to keep animal activists updated on opportunities to advocate for wolves. For example, NARN has provided a pre-written message that you can send to Governor Inslee expressing concern for the killing of wolves in the Colville National Forest. View the message here.
Please see more of NARN’s action alerts for wolves here.
5) Encourage your friends and family to go vegan.
We would be remiss if we did not mention the positive impacts of going vegan! The meat and dairy industry inflict habitat loss on local wildlife. For example, the Togo wolf pack calls Washington’s Colville National Forest home, but the government also leases this public land to cattle farmers for grazing. WDFW issues kill orders on wolves when conflicts between wolves and cattle lead to injury or death of livestock. This loss of life is entirely preventable. Anyone can make an impact for wildlife by refusing meat and dairy products.