OLYMPIA — Washington Fish and Wildlife reaffirmed Wednesday afternoon that it planned to try to shoot at least one wolf today in Stevens County, rebuffing two environmental groups that sought more time to seek a court order blocking the operation.
The department’s attorney, Michael Grossmann, told a Thurston County Superior Court commissioner that waiting would put more cattle in danger of being attacked.
Commissioner Rebekah Zinn declined to intervene, deferring to Judge Carol Murphy, who has heard previous challenges to shooting wolves. Murphy was unavailable Wednesday, so a hearing on issuing a temporary restraining order was set for Nov. 14.
By then, the department may have shot one or two wolves in the Smackout pack and completed another operation to kill the last two members of the Old Profanity Territory pack in Ferry County.
The department also gave permission to a Ferry County rancher Wednesday to shoot wolves in the Togo pack if they come into a private fenced pasture with cattle.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands filed a challenge to all three actions. The groups claim that Fish and Wildlife’s lethal-removal protocol is illegal because it wasn’t subjected to a formal environmental review and public comment.
The department agreed last spring to give the environmental groups one-day warning before targeting wolves. The notice provides a window to challenge lethal-removal orders. The department issued notice shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday. Grossmann said the department was unwilling to keep the window open beyond Wednesday.
He cited the need to protect private property, the cost of mobilizing a helicopter and the fact that Murphy has twice declined to block the department from shooting wolves under similar circumstances.
Grossmann said the chances that any wolves in the Togo pack will be shot by the ranch before next week’s hearing in front of Murphy were “extraordinarily small.”
He also noted that the department has been trying to remove the Old Profanity Territory pack for nearly two weeks without success. He acknowledged that the Smackout pack wolves were in more danger of being killed before next week’s hearing.
Fish and Wildlife has confirmed the Smackout pack has injured one calf and injured four heifers since Aug. 20. The attacks have been occurring on private land, and two producers have been affected.
The pack has four or five adults, but there is no evidence it produced pups this year, according to Fish and Wildlife. To stop attacks on livestock, the department initially kills one or two wolves in a pack and waits to see whether the attacks stop.
Fish and Wildlife has already shot two wolves in the Old Profanity Territory pack, but the pack continues to attack cattle in the Colville National Forest. The department announced Oct. 26 it planned to kill the pack’s last two wolves.
The operation has been complicated by the fact that only one wolf, an adult male, is wearing a radio collar, Fish and Wildlife wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said.
“The ability to remove the collared wolf has been difficult,” he said. “If we remove the collared wolf first, we don’t have the means to remove the uncollared wolf.”
The uncollared wolf is a juvenile born last April and big enough to roam over a large area with the adult, Martorello said.
Most cattle are off the federal grazing allotment, though some cattle will remain there for several more weeks, he said. The pack’s territory also includes private grazing land, he said. Fish and Wildlife has confirmed 16 depredations by the pack since Sept. 4.
The department cited strained resources in issuing a permit to the rancher instead of undertaking an operation against the Togo pack.
Martorello said the department would have difficulty finding the pack anyway because none of the three wolves has been fitted with a radio collar.
The department shot the only collared wolf in the Togo pack on Sept. 2. A rancher had previously wounded the wolf. He told the department he acted in self-defense. Fish and Wildlife confirmed Oct. 26 that the pack injured a calf, leading the department to issue the permit to the rancher.