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A state lawmaker was performing a “core duty” of a citizen-legislator when he linked his discontent with wolf scientist Rob Wielgus to Washington State University’s budget, according to the Legislative Ethics Board.
The board has dismissed accusations made by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility against Rep. Joel Kretz, whose northeast Washington district has the vast majority of the state’s wolves.
Kretz said Friday he was defending constituents from Wielgus, whose actions included accusing ranchers of enticing wolves to attack cattle to provoke state wildlife managers into culling a pack. Wielgus’ comments were condemned by WSU officials as wrong and inflammatory. Ranchers and wildlife managers said they received death threats in the wake of the well-publicized claim.
“I felt like we were paying someone with taxpayer dollars to damage my constituents,” Kretz said. “Yeah, you’re damn right, I’ll stick my nose in it.”
PEER formally complained last year that Kretz as “a rancher and avid predator hunter” acted in his self-interest when he sought to curtail funding for Wielgus’ research on wolves and cougars.
The ethics board, made up mostly of current and former legislators, concluded last month that Kretz was acting on behalf of his district, not private gain.
“He is not required to abandon his personal interests and perspectives in the performance of his legislative work,” according to the board’s written opinion. “Even if the complainant’s description of Rep. Kretz’s personal motivations are true, Rep. Kretz did not stand to benefit or gain personally in a manner that could constitute an ethical violation.”
Efforts to reach Wielgus and PEER to comment Friday were unsuccessful. Wielgus last month took a $300,000 settlement and left WSU to resolve claims he had been muzzled by the university at the behest of ranching interests. WSU denied any wrongdoing.
In its written opinion, the board said there was no documented confirmation that Kretz sought to have Wielgus sanctioned or reprimanded. Kretz did tell WSU officials that if it were up to him, Wielgus would be fired, but that the decision was for the school to make.
“Rep. Kretz sought no special treatment or private gain, and made his statements based on policy advocacy and to bring what he viewed as employee misconduct to light,” according to the board.
“Actions taken by Rep. Kretz to affect funding for WSU’s budget requests, including funding for the Large Carnivore Laboratory and Dr. Wielgus, are part of his core duties as a legislator,” the board stated.
Kretz said that he was skeptical about WSU funding requests, including for a medical school, as long as Wielgus led the Large Carnivore Laboratory. “That money is not owed to anybody,” he said.