Posts Tagged ‘Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’


State Fish and Wildlife Commission Denies Petition to Require Nonlethal Steps to Manage Washington Wolves

For Immediate Release, August 1, 2014
Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 779-9613
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746
Tim Coleman, Kettle Range Conservation Group, (509) 775-2667
Rebecca Wolfe, Washington Chapter of Sierra Club, (425) 750-4091
State Fish and Wildlife Commission Denies Petition to Require Nonlethal Steps to Manage Washington Wolves
Eight Petitioning Groups Will Appeal to Governor
OLYMPIA, Wash.— The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today denied a petition filed by eight conservation groups seeking to limit when wolves can be killed in response to livestock depredations, and to require livestock producers to exhaust nonlethal measures to prevent depredations before lethal action can be taken. The petition was filed to prevent lethal actions such as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2012 decision to kill seven wolves in the Wedge Pack despite the fact that the livestock producer who had lost livestock had taken little action to protect his stock. Petitioners plan to appeal the commission’s decision to the governor.
“Washington needs to make legally enforceable commitments to ensure the state’s vulnerable, fledgling wolf population is treated like the endangered species that it is,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The state has made some headway, but without clear rules to prevent the department from pulling the trigger too quickly, Washington’s wolves will be at great risk.”
Conservation groups filed a similar petition in the summer of 2013 but withdrew it based on promises from the department to negotiate new rules governing lethal methods of wolf management. A year later, with no negotiations having taken place, the department gave notice to the commission it was going to introduce its own, far-less-protective lethal wolf-control rule, leading the groups to refile their petition.
“The conservation community has asked the department to engage an outside, unbiased, professional mediator so that stakeholders can negotiate rules language to address wolf-livestock conflict prevention and produce standards for the department to adhere to before resorting to lethal control of wolves,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “Until that mediated negotiation has taken place, we will continue to send a message to the state that Washington residents want their wolves protected.”
In 2011 the Commission formally adopted a state wolf plan, which was crafted in a five-year process with input from a 17-member stakeholder group, more than 65,000 written comments from the public, and a peer review by 43 scientists and wolf managers. However, commission and department officials have publicly stated that they view the plan as merely advisory. Its lack of legal enforceability resulted in the department’s mishandling of the Wedge pack in 2012 and in the adoption of rules by the commission in 2013 that allow wolves to be killed under circumstances the wolf plan does not permit.
“It’s time to put a stake in the ground and stop the state’s backsliding on the wolf plan,” said Tim Coleman, executive director for The Kettle Range Conservation Group. “We can all see what happens when nonlethal conflict prevention methods are used — they work.” 
Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. Since the early 2000s, the animals have started to make a comeback by dispersing into Washington from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia. But wolf recovery is still in its infancy.  According to the department’s annual wolf report, Washington’s wolf population grew by only one wolf, from a population of 51 wolves to 52 wolves from the end of 2012 to the end of 2013. In the past year, three wolves were killed by mountain lions, one wolf was illegally poached, and another was killed by a deer hunter. In the face of these threats, it is essential that more wolves are not lost from the state’s tiny wolf population because of state-sanctioned lethal control actions that ignore the proven, nonlethal methods of conflict prevention.  
“Wolf-livestock conflicts are so rare and, what’s more — they are preventable,” said Rebecca Wolfe, Wolf Advisory Group member for the Washington Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Let’s get some rules in place to reflect that reality and also to recognize that lethal control of an endangered species should be an absolutely last resort.”
The petition to ensure protections for wolves was filed by groups representing tens of thousands of Washington residents, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Environmental Law Center, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, The Lands Council, Wildlands Network, Kettle Range Conservation Group and the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Petitioners have 30 days from receipt of an official commission document denying the petition to file their appeal with Governor Inslee. Upon receipt of the appeal, the governor’s office has 45 days to respond with a final decision.


Of Roosevelt Elk, Bacteria, Hooves and Herbicides

By Bob Ferris Elk US FWS
Over the last several years through numerous blog posts and comments Cascadia Wildlands has been forwarding two important notions. The first is that state wildlife commissions (and therefore agencies) in the West are too beholding to resource-oriented industries such as ranching, timber, mining and energy interests at the expense of hunters, anglers and our ever-dwindling wildlife legacy (1,2).
And, at the same time, western wildlife commissions are too accepting of the ideas forwarded by some extreme hunting groups that increasingly reflect the views of these same resource-dependent industries such as increasing clearcuts, aggressive predator control, protection of public lands grazing and more road creation for access rather than hitting the conservation sweet spots of habitat restoration, wilderness preservation, road retirement and water quality improvement (1,2). In essence, both the commissions and these more trophy hunting-oriented groups have been quietly coopted by the very elements that do damage to the natural resources needed by all wildlife and fish.
The most recent and troubling example involves the issue of hoof rot in Washington State’s Roosevelt elk herds. No one knows for sure at this point what is causing the hoof rot in southwestern Washington, but there are a lot of candidates both of a direct and indirect nature. One hypothesis that was put forth recently is that there is some link between combinations of factors that could include herbicide use by the forest products industry and a bacterial infection known as leptospirosis. Leptospirosis often causes severe muscle pain in mammals which might explain the limping observed in these elk as well as the lack of hoof wear on the sore legs. Leptospirosis has been present in Washington for decades.
Caution the below video contains images that may be disturbing to some:

As a wildlife biologist who frequently looks at complex interactions, I can appreciate a scenario that includes multiple causes such as massive habitat changes and herbicide use that put elk in a vulnerable condition so they present the variety of symptoms we are observing with this hoof rot phenomenon. But the idea of this being driven by leptospirosis or via an herbicide link—either through decreased habitat quality or consumption effects—has been met with apparent resistance in spite of efforts by a retired public health researcher and an expert on leptospirosis detection, Dr. Boone Mora, and hunter Jon Gosch who has written two well-researched blog posts on the topic (1,2).  In addition, farrier Krystal Davies has also made a rather cogent argument for this being laminitis associated with or driven by herbicides.
WDFW Herbicide
The above is a screenshot from the WDFW website.  Please note the mentions of NCASI and the University of Alberta as sources. Click here to view U of A study's funding sources. 
It is amazing given the volume of public commentary on habitat, herbicides and alternative diseases that the WDFW Hoof Disease power point presentation from October 2013 focused on identifying symptoms and wildly invasive cures rather than dealing with what the root causes might be such as habitat degradation and herbicide use which seem buried deep in the presentation—almost as afterthoughts. You almost get the impression when you view this slide show that the elk are at fault and should bear the brunt of the solution. Why are the root causes being ignored in favor of a narrow band of issues that are more likely symptoms? That is a great question or set of questions.
"The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement is an independent, non-profit research institute that focuses on environmental topics of interest to the forest products industry. Membership is open to forest products companies in the U.S., Canada, and beyond." Mission statement of NCASI from website.
Part of the answer to the above comes in the form of an obscure but powerful group called the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement or NCASI. Formerly known as the  National Council of the Paper Industry for Air and Stream Improvement, this is the research arm of the timber industry and often their scientific mouthpiece. NCASI seems to enjoy preferred access to Washington's wildlife agency and used as a resource (see FAQ quote above) which is troubling given that the timber industry has a long history of viewing deer and elk as unwelcome pests (1,2,3) and because of NCASI's industry biased spinning of scientific findings, regulations and other phenomena ( 1,2,3,4).
"During that outing, Dr. Vickie Tatum, a herbicide specialist for the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, told the hoof disease group that herbicides target specific actions in plants that don’t occur in animals. Dr. John Cook, an elk researcher who also works for the NCASI, pointed out that herbicides are used in Oregon and the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon and there’s no hoof disease there." In The Daily News May 22, 2014
Of particular relevance here, NCASI has also been very active in telling the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) that herbicides are not the problem.  This is probably based in part on a report by NCASI written by Dr. Tatum, NCASI researcher Larry L. Irwin Ph.D. and others with assistance from Dr. Cook.  Unfortunately, WDFW seems to be listening to the pro-herbicide rhetoric and they are not the only ones.  
“Larry brings decades of on-the-ground work to the table,” said David Allen, RMEF President and CEO. “His studies on elk, other wildlife, and habitat further strengthen RMEF’s resolve to acquire more science-based research and knowledge.” David Allen quoted in NCASI press release April 15, 2013. 
Some who have been paying attention might ask: But where is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in all of this? Shouldn’t they and their members be outraged that the timber industry is compromising elk habitat with herbicides and forest management practices? Aren’t they the ones who should stand up for the elk, elk habitat and support Dr. Mora and Mr. Gosch in their efforts to get answers? Logical questions and some of the answer might come when you look at RMEF board of directors page and right in the middle, wearing a dark brown cowboy hat, a bolo tie and a smile sits the above mentioned Larry Irwin.  And the connection between RMEF, NCASI and Dr. Irwin is a strong one as RMEF has provided significant, long-term funding for a number of projects overseen by NCASI, Dr. Irwin and others in the timber industry (1,2,3)
"Improving large mammal browse was a primary focus of the first decade of research on forest herbicides (pers. comm., M. Newton, Emeritus Professor, Department of Forest Science, Oregon State University) and remains an important consideration today." in NCASI pp. 31.
As a former ungulate biologist I was particularly concerned with the statements made in NCASI's herbicide paper in the wildlife section on pages 29-31. Reading these pages in the absence of background one would think that the timber industry’s goal was increasing and improving forage for deer and elk and that these ungulates were only minimally impacted because the woody vegetation killed was replaced by grasses.
“Conversely, herbicidal control of hardwood brush for the establishment of conifer plantations may remove valuable wildlife browse species and habitat.” In Review of the Ecological Effects of Herbicide Usage in Forestry by J.P. Kimmins 1975
“Model results suggested that the potential for long-term changes in vegetation composition and resultant ungulate forage availability were most pronounced during winter.” in NCASI pp. 29-31.   
The well recognized fly–even by NCASI–in this ointment is winter. Grasses are great in the spring and summer but as they mature and summer transitions into fall these plants take their protein and ship it below ground to be stored for next year. In short, if you have killed off the woody vegetation and are left with nutritionally useless grasses what do the elk eat in winter when stress and caloric needs are high–particularly in females carrying young?
I was also concerned with the coverage in this section about the toxic impact of the herbicides on wildlife. Certainly this is the timber industry’s party line, but the public has compelling reasons to be dubious about the rigor of these findings as they apply to wildlife and human health too. These “benign” herbicides are turning out to be more problematic than originally thought.  Adding to this general atmosphere of distrust are stories like the one unfolding at Triangle Lake in Oregon where citizens rightfully want to know what the timber and herbicide industries have put in their waters and ultimately their bodies.   
"The group also heard a presentation about herbicides by Anne Fairbrother, a veterinarian and principal scientist with the Exponent research company in Seattle.
Herbicides have “no known mode of action in mammals,” Fairbrother said. "They’re practically nontoxic to mammals according to most of the studies that have been done. We haven’t had any observations of direct effect that we’ve been aware of on wildlife and most of these herbicides have been around for several decades.” in The Daily News June 5, 2014
"CropLife America represents more than 60 developers, manufacturers, formulators and distributors of virtually all the crop protection products used by American farmers and growers. We are the voice of the industry that ensures the safe and responsible use of pesticides in order to provide a safe, affordable and abundant food supply." CropLife Mission Statement from their website.
My nervousness over this herbicide issue is little diminished by the nuanced quote above by Dr. Anne Fairbrother whose company Exponent is a dues paying member of CropLife America along with Syngenta the manafacturer of atrazine (see also attacks on scientists).  It is noteable that Dr. Fairbrother when she was with the US EPA during the Bush II era also supported the EPA's decision to continue to allow the use of atrazine over the objections of many and an existing and growing body of scientific evidence that if anything should have dictated a more cautious approach (1,2,3,4,5,6).  Atrazine is banned in the EU.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet by William Shakespeare 1602
All in all the herbicide users, makers and the minions for both “doth protest too much, methinks” to do anything other than raise serious questions about too tight and too trusting relationships with WDFW and other serious conflicts of interest.  And what about spending just a little bit of time with Dr. Cook’s interesting “proof” about herbicies not contributing to or being at the root of this situation because we are not seeing the same phenomenon is other places where herbicides are used like the Blue Mountains?  We have indeed seen drops in elk populations in the Blues (1,2).  And setting aside the fact that we are dealing with a different subspecies of elk, in different habitats, and under different precipitation regimes, this area also has a full compliment of predators including wolves which are coursing predators that would make quick work of limping elk affected by leptospirosis, laminitis or other diseases.  
Getting back to Dr. Irwin, he is coincidentally also a science advisor to our friends at the Oregon Outdoor Council (1,2,3) who have, without caveat or condition, endorsed federal legislative proposals that could greatly increase clearcutting on federal forest lands in western Oregon as well as potentially reopening the door for herbicide use on some of these lands. As we have heard numerous rumors of limping elk in Oregon and leptospirosis has been documented in the state, this really needs to be examined and questioned as it has significant implications for issues like the privatization of the Elliott State Forest and the O&C proposals—both of which could lead to more clearcuts and herbicide use.
Embedded in all of this is also the oft repeated cautionary tale of massive habitat changes—human-wrought and natural—leading to short term gains in ungulate populations followed by population crashes and other catastrophic problems. Ecologists and visionary wildlife managers have been trying to raise the alarm about the consequences of these phenomena and related habitat issues for nearly 100 years (see Flathead Game Reduction). Yet we tend to get shouted down, ignored or fired (1,2) both during the elation over increased populations and the ensuing panic that accompanies the crashes.
NCASI Report Tree Illustration
In the latter case of crashes some hunters and wildlife commissioners do not want to hear about solutions—like habitat restoration—that might take decades or even centuries to fully unfold. They want right-now solutions like predator control, vaccines for diseases, and other biological Band-Aids. Population explosions also reset expectations and no one wants to be reminded that succession happens and clearcuts provide good elk food resources for a decade or two before shading out needed understory for nearly two centuries.  And as the illustration above from NCASI's herbicide report shows, the "clearcut bonus" is reduced nearly to zero when those lands are densely replanted with Douglas-firs and managed with herbcides.  
In all of this it is important to know the players and their biases. Moreover, it is important to make sure that the solution process is appropriately designed and equipped to provide solutions that solve the root causes of this problem and protect this important public resource for future generations. Towards those ends I would make the following suggestions to the WDFW:
1) Get more systems thinkers such as ecologists and also folks with experience outside of laboratories involved in the process.  These need to be people willing to ask tough questions about why this might be happening in the first place and not tied to any agency or industry that might be contributing to the problem.
2) Take some time to educate folks on elk habitat needs and the short and long-term consequences of habitat changes, herbicide use, and plant succession on elk populations.
3) Be more inclusive of other voices in the process and listen more closely to the concerns of hunters, anglers, and others who own and enjoy these public resources and less to those like the timber industry, herbicie interests or their scientists whose actions tend to decrease biodiversity and ecosystem integrity.
4-6) Conduct research, research and more research. This may seem facetious, but there is so much that we do not know, yet we are acting in a manner that suggests that we do. The impacts of herbicides and the interactions between various products as well as their "inactive" parts needs to be fully investigated before the issue is dismissed and the public told that these chemicals are safe for wildlife and humans. The full range of bacterial and immunotoxic causes and symptoms need to be examined and considered before they are ruled out. And the human health implications of handling and consumption of infected elk need to be fully addressed as well. There are others, but this would be a great start.
As I mentioned above, I do not know what is causing this phenomenon. But I do know that if the process and players lack openness and are preloaded to a certain realm of answers, the solution will reflect this. If you agree with these concerns click below to request that WDFW modify their current approach and remember that they are in the elk business not in the timber and herbicide game.
Roosevelt and Muir
My last comment has to do with the value of citizen activism and picking effective campaign partners by shared goals and benefits rather than appearance or perceived politics. I have written volumes about the campaigns of some with ties to the resource industries to drive wedges between natural allies in the conservation and environmental communities. Instead of rehashing what I have already said let me end with this. Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir—arguably the father of modern conservation and the king of the tree huggers—were friends and effective colleagues. They did not always agree on issues—in fact they had some pretty monumental battles.  But when they worked together they accomplished amazing things that are still talked about and revered more than a century later. Perhaps this is an issue where we can all work together again and not only do something exceptional on this front but set the stage for another and much needed push to ensure the future of wildlife and wild places and, at the same time, make our future more secure. 


Groups Urge More Cautious Approach on Washington’s Wolf-kill Policy

 For Immediate Release, February 6, 2014
Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 779-9613
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463
Jessica Walz Schafer, Gifford Pinchot Task Force (503) 221-2102 x 101
Groups Urge More Cautious Approach on Washington’s Wolf-kill Policy
Letter Urges Revision to State’s Policies on Lethal Control of Recovering Wolf Populations
OLYMPIA, Wash.— Twelve conservation organizations sent a letter to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife today raising concerns about the agency’s increasingly aggressive approach to killing endangered wolves and urged a more protective stance when it comes to the state's fledgling wolf population. The groups, working together as the Washington Wolf Collaborative, are requesting that the department revise its protocol for lethal control of wolves involved in wolf-livestock conflicts. Specific requests include a greater emphasis on nonlethal measures to keep livestock away from wolves and ensuring that Washington’s wolf lethal control policy is at least as protective of wolves as policies in place for wolves in neighboring Oregon.
“Washington’s wolves need tolerance and patience, not policies that are quick on the trigger,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The current protocol would allow wolves to be killed after just one or two conflicts with livestock, even though there’s no scientific literature confirming that killing wolves even solves the problem. Wolves are an endangered species and shouldn’t be managed like deer, elk or other game where the answer to every problem is just to start shooting.”
Washington’s wolf plan was crafted over five years by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife with input from a 17-member stakeholder group; it included more than 65,000 written comments from the public and a peer review by 43 scientists and wolf managers from outside the state.
Unfortunately, after the wolf plan was adopted in 2011, the state agency immediately transferred management authority over wolves from the Endangered Species Division to the Game Management division. Since then, agency actions toward wolves have strayed from the very conservative approach that is appropriate and necessary for recovering an endangered species. On Jan. 24, the agency issued a lethal control protocol, granting itself authority to kill wolves under circumstances that are a far cry from the precautionary approach that should be taken in the management of a recovering endangered species.



WDFW: Did You Ever Think to Ask?

Washington WolfBy Bob Ferris

In my experience so many conflicts are avoidable simply by checking in and asking simple questions.  In our office we do it all the time.  Is anyone else too hot?  Is my humming of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony bothering you?  Can I put popcorn in the microwave?  Anytime someone deals with a space or any other resource that is shared or co-owned a little consideration is an order.  

Collaborations or co-creations often spring from this approach and are a good thing, too.  More heads tend to add value to the product and also help spot those little issues that might turn out later to be Godzilla-like in their repercussions.  It is also a matter of courtesy.  

That is why the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s position of support for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) gray wolf delisting proposal is so troubling.  It was done in the absence of any visible effort to gather input from those people who actually own the wildlife in question—the citizens of Washington, all of them.  

And while the agency certainly can and should make informed pronouncements about Washington’s wildlife, they should be more humble and circumspect when commenting on elements of federal rules or regulations that impact wildlife and habitats beyond their jurisdiction and owned by other states and citizens.  The agency would be unlikely to think that their successes in managing bears or elk, for instance, would give them license to comment on Alaska’s bear management plans or Colorado’s steps to cull diseased elk.  But giving a blanket and unqualified endorsement of the USFWS is essentially the same action.  

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is basically a good agency and we feel that we have a productive working relationship with them.  That said, we do think that they often miss important details like the broader implications and unintended consequences of this and similar actions.  To be clear, those unintended consequences include incomplete recovery in western Washington, stalled recolonization of states with great habitat and organized resistance such as Utah, Nevada and Colorado, and diluted opportunities in California. They also, like many wildlife agencies, forget that their public is much broader and more diverse than the hunting, angling and ranching communities.  These are important players and stakeholders but are not the only voices when it comes to wildlife.  Please join us in asking the agency and the Fish and Wildlife Commission to be more deliberate, judicious and sensitive to the views of all owners and users of Washington’s magnificent wildlife resource.  Please take action below.

WDFW Please Reconsider Your Position on Wolf Delisting

The following state legislators in Washington are asking questions about the Department's position, and we thank them for the efforts and their leadership on this issue:  

State Senator Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island)
State Rep. Kris Lytton (D-Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan Counties)
State Rep. Hans Dunshee (D- Snohomish County) 
Senator Christine Rolfes (D-Kitsap County)


Mr. Cady Goes to Washington or Ten Bears and Josey Talk Wolves

By Bob Ferris

I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and watched Westerns with my dad.  We liked the action, wildness and, at times, the messaging contained in the films about cowboys, mountain men, desperados and the first folks in the Americans.   Somewhere in the proteinaceous filing cabinets of my brain I am sure that I have a collection of favorite scenes and lines.  And one of my favorites is the scene between Clint Eastwood and the late Will Sampson in The Outlaw Josey Wales (below).  

I think of this clip because I was just getting briefed on Nick Cady’s trip to Washington to speak before the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf team on behalf of these recovering canids.  Our intent in sending Nick to Olympia was two-fold.  First, after developing a relatively strong Wolf Plan in Washington, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, under pressure from the livestock industry, has been steadily whittling away at protections for wolves.  And clearly the Wedge Pack train wreck still stings and we wanted to make absolutely sure that happenstance was not repeated.

Our second intent was to bring what we have crafted through nearly two years of negotiation in Oregon north so that parties in Washington can benefit from all the hard work and lessons—both good and bad—that we have learned through our efforts in Oregon.  

The message delivered by Nick and others in our collation is much like the movie’s in that it proffers a clear choice between a path of unpleasant and painful, mutual destruction or one where we figure out exactly what we need to do to live relatively peacefully together.  Our preference is for the latter as our experience tells us that the most creative and effective solutions come from situation with similar dynamics, but we are also fully prepared for the former.  


Conservation groups seek stronger wolf protections


By Ann McCreary–Methow Valley NewsPhoto by Scott Flaherty
August 14, 2013

Prompted in part by the state’s extermination of the Wedge Pack last year, a coalition of conservation organizations is advocating amending some provisions of Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan to make them legally binding.

A petition filed by eight West Coast conservation groups asks the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to codify – or set into law – key elements of the plan. The petitioners say setting those policies into law would “bring greater certainty, accountability and transparency to wolf management in the future.”

The commission will hold a conference call meeting on Friday (Aug. 16) to consider the petition, which was submitted July 19. State law requires the commission to respond within 60 days.

A staff summary prepared for the meeting recommends the commission deny the petition because many areas of the plan identified in the petition are already being codified “and will continue to be amended as needed over time.”

State agencies have authority to adopt administrative codes, or rules, that are legally enforceable. Key aspects of the wolf management plan that petitioners want to become rules include the definition of what constitutes a wolf attack; provisions for lethal control (killing) of wolves and compensation to livestock or pet owners for losses to wolves.

The state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, adopted in 2011, was the result of a public process that took five years and 23 public meetings, 15 months of meetings by a 17-member stakeholder group, generated more than 65,000 written comments, and was peer-reviewed by 43 reviewers, the petition states.

“The Plan incorporates science as well as social and economic considerations, and represents five years of negotiated compromises … by stakeholders whose views regarding wolves spanned the widest possible range,” the petition states.

Without making key provisions legally binding, however, “the plan at this time is arguably no more than advisory,” petitioners said. “With codified rules, commercial livestock operators, conservation organizations, and regular citizens will all know with much greater certainty when and how the agency will react to a variety of situations. …”

Several key areas of the plan are proposed to be amended as legally binding rules, including provisions for lethal control by citizens and conditions for compensation for loss of property caused by wolves, said Dave Ware, game division manager for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). WDFW is currently taking public comments on these and other proposed amendments to the wolf plan until Sept. 20.

In a summary prepared for Friday’s meeting, Ware noted that petitioners disagree with several of WDFW’s proposed rules. One proposal would change the plan’s definition of “attack” from “biting, injuring or killing” to read “evidence to support the fact that animal to animal contact has occurred or is immediately imminent and the animal is in the attack posture or mode.”

Another proposal would eliminate the plan’s requirement that citizens obtain a permit from WDFW in order to kill a wolf caught in the act of attacking livestock (in areas of the state where wolves are not federally listed as endangered).

The amendments would also make permanent an emergency rule adopted earlier this year, which allows killing wolves caught attacking any domestic animal, including pets. The wolf management plan only allows for killing wolves attacking livestock.

“In this case the emergency rule … is outside of the plan,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity in California, one of the petitioners.

“When you have an agency introduce amendments … with language that is different from what the wolf plan said … you’re unraveling the plan piece by piece,” Weiss said.

“When the Wedge Pack action happened last fall, people were concerned that the plan wasn’t being followed,” Weiss said.

Wolves in the Wedge Pack in Stevens County were determined to be responsible for livestock injuries and deaths, and were subsequently shot by WDFW. Weiss said the cattle owner had not cooperated in non-lethal efforts to deter attacks outlined in the wolf management plan, and there were conflicting opinions from experts about whether wolves were in fact responsible for the attacks on the cattle.

Ware said WDFW officials regularly meet with the department’s wolf advisory group and are refining recommendations about the proposed changes to the wolf management plan. “We are having that … discussion now to get at predictability in compensation, lethal action,” Ware said.

“As suggested by the petitioners, a plan should be flexible and adaptive in order to successfully achieve its objectives, in this case recovery of wolves,” Ware said in his summary. He said WDFW is working “to maintain an open and transparent process of managing wolves.”

Petitioners include Cascadia Wildlands, Eugene, Ore.; Western Environmental Law Center, Eugene, Ore.; Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Portland, Ore.; Kettle Range Conservation Group, Republic, Wash.; The Lands Council, Spokane; Wildlands Network, Seattle; and Washington Chapter of the Sierra Club, Seattle.


State of Washington Petitioned to Better Protect Wolves: Seven Groups Ask State Wildlife Agency to Follow, Enforce Wolf Plan

For Immediate Release, July 19, 2013
Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 779-9613
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, (541) 525-5087
Bob Ferris, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463
Greg Costello, Wildlands Network, (206) 260-1177
State of Washington Petitioned to Enforce Wolf Protections
Seven Groups Ask State Wildlife Agency to Codify Wolf Plan Into State Law

OLYMPIA, Wash.— In an effort to stop the indiscriminate killing of Washington’s wolves, seven conservation groups filed a petition today calling for the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission to make the state’s wolf-management guidelines legally binding. The new push to codify provisions put in place in 2011 comes after the state killed seven Wedge Pack wolves last year — a decision that ignored Washington Wolf Conservation and Management Plan provisions governing when lethal control of wolves is allowed. 

In a comprehensive five-year process, Washington’s wolf plan was crafted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife with input from a 17-member stakeholder group; more than 65,000 written comments from the public; and a peer review by 43 scientists and wolf managers from outside the state. Yet despite the plan’s formal adoption by the Fish and Wildlife Commission in December 2011, department officials have publicly stated they view the plan as merely advisory and have recently proposed numerous amendments to Washington’s Administrative Code that significantly depart from the wolf plan’s provisions.

“Despite years of hard work to develop this wolf management plan with buy-in from all concerned stakeholders, when it came to the Wedge Pack, the state failed miserably,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity.  “The state’s killing of seven wolves last year was tragic, unnecessary and violated the wolf plan. But Fish and Wildlife got away with it because the wolf plan isn’t currently enforceable. Wolves — and Washington taxpayers — deserve better.”
“Making the wolf plan legally binding will help avoid future confusion and mistrust over how wolves are being managed and will prevent the occurrence of such clear departures from the plan’s provisions, as happened last year with the Wedge Pack,” said John Mellgren, a staff attorney with Western Environmental Law Center.  
Wolves were driven to extinction in Washington in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. They began to return from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s, and their population has grown to 10 confirmed packs today. This represents solid growth, but wolves in the state are far from recovered and face ongoing threats. The state Fish and Wildlife decision last fall to kill the entire Wedge Pack in northeastern Washington for livestock-related conflicts resulted in a firestorm of public controversy; the department issued its wolf kill order despite conflicting opinions from experts about whether the initial livestock losses were due to wolves and despite the livestock owner’s refusal to take adequate proactive steps to prevent losses.
“The reestablishment of wolves in Washington is still in its infancy, and the species needs ongoing, adequate protections and certainty in management actions to recover and conserve a sustainable wolf population here,” said Josh Laughlin, conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands. 
In addition to provisions regarding conflict-prevention strategies and the specific circumstances when lethal control of wolves is allowed, the plan also sets forth requirements for ongoing monitoring of the health and sustainability of wolf populations in Washington; the publication of annual reports to keep the public updated regarding the status of wolf recovery and conservation; and meeting specific population goals before regional delisting of wolves within the state can take place. But because the plan’s provisions have not been codified into law, none of them are enforceable; they can be changed by the department or commission at any time without public input.
The petition to increase protections for wolves was filed by groups representing tens of thousands of Washington residents, including: the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Environmental Law Center, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Kettle Range Conservation Group, The Lands Council and Wildlands Network.
Today’s filing of the petition with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission starts the clock ticking on a 60-day statutory period within which the state must respond.

For additional information and background please see:






Reasonable People Can Disagree, but…


By Bob Ferris

“Reasonable, even intelligent people can, and frequently do, disagree on how best to achieve peace in the Middle East, but, peace must be the goal of our foreign policy tools, whether they be by the stick or by the carrot.” Nick Rahall Congressman from West Virginia
I have always liked the above quote because I think it is transferable to a lot of other issues.  In this instance, I am thinking about the wolf.  Reasonable, intelligent people can and often do disagree on the best pathways for wolf recovery.  All things being equal I have found that people’s reasonableness will win the day—when that reasonableness is honest and is allowed to flourish. 
The problem when we try to apply this approach to wolves in Eastern Washington and this recently rushed through “emergency rule” is that we are not always dealing with reasonable people.  And even if those people started out reasonable, anti-wolf forces are working overtime to make them less so.  
Northeast Washington-based hunting guide Dale Denney had similar suggestions on how conservationists could meet hunters halfway: “Learn to accept the fact that wolves need to be managed (especially problem wolves) if you ever want the public to accept them. Pro-wolf groups also need to promote responsible management of problem wolves and agree with wolf numbers that fit into our modern ecosystems without upsetting the balance that has been established over the last 100 years. Many hunters would be more acceptable to a moderate number of wolves established slowly rather than imposing unregulated numbers of wolves and preventing management.”  Quoted in Conservation Northwest’s Fall 2012 Newsletter
The above quote seems reasonable and paints Mr. Denney of Bear Paw Outfitters in a reasonable and open light until you realize that Mr. Denney is also the owner of the website Washington Wolves which is packed chock-full of anti-wolf rhetoric, untruths and fear mongering.   
“[Wildlife] Commissioner Chuck Perry of Moses Lake said he was a little concerned about the limit of killing one wolf, because they are pack animals.” (see here)
Moreover, this emergency rule—even if people are reasonable and responsible—lacks the appropriate conditions or sideboards to prevent abuse.  Where in here are requirements for pro-active preventative measures such as range riders or fladry prior to allowing citizen control of a state endangered species? And where are the prohibitions about attractive nuisances such as carcasses or bone piles? 
All we see here in this emergency rule is a wildlife agency continuing to act like an agricultural department and setting of the stage for another Wedge Pack disaster.  Only this time everyone will get to participate.  



WDFW and the Wedge Pack—Not a Class Act

By Bob Ferris

People who teach in a classroom understand that the game is won or lost and the tone set extremely early in the process.  Setting and communicating clear boundaries and expectations on that first day of class can help head off problems and save a lot time and energy on corrective actions.  By this measure, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and their governing commission failed the Wedge Pack and also failed the public who expects that the agency—first and foremost—to protect the interests of the wildlife under their care.

The fact that WDFW field staff seemed unclear about procedures and policies, everyone except gas station attendants appeared to be verifying wolf depredation claims and agency’s strategy of not answering the phone and pretending to not be home when the concerned and angry public called only added to the Keystone Cop-nature of this whole affair.  In short, through all these actions WDFW has seriously lost the public’s confidence and either needs to make some massive changes or find new leaders that can.
What kind of changes?  First, the agency has to bend over backwards to rebuild trust with the public and remember that WDFW is in the business of species recovery not looking for ways to placate a recalcitrant and generally uncooperative public lands rancher.  There is another state agency that looks after the rancher very well, thank you.
Then WDFW also needs to go back to square one—or day one—in terms of making sure that appropriate expectations are set and the infrastructure is there to forward wolf recovery.  This will be tough because the agency has already shown itself to lack a certain level of gumption when it comes to dealing with the ranching community.  Since the agency has been tested and failed, push back will happen and WDFW will just have to push back harder and stronger.  This probably requires a new team—in short—a new sheriff has to come to town.
The public lands grazing aspect of this and the responsibility of leaseholders to undertake preventative measures and practice proactive stewardship may seem like a sideshow, but it is central to the problem.  The cattle industry has occupied the throne on public lands for a long time and many still embrace a romantic view of cowboys—including me occasionally.  But that inertia and those emotions have to be balanced with facts and reality particularly as we look at actions on our public estate.  
The last figures I reviewed peg the taxpayer costs of public lands grazing in the West at a cool $100 million annually.  Grazing fees on public lands are much, much lower than those on private.  Add to those costs the environmental impacts of grazing from degraded habitat and water quality that translate directly into fewer elk and deer plus less fish and song birds to diminished recreational opportunities on our wildlands.  I respect and often like ranchers, but in a multi-use setting there can be no kings or fiefdoms and all public lands users have to act responsibly.  And given that hunting, fishing, and wolf-oriented tourism are all economic engines in their own rights, it really begs the question of whether we can or should still treat these lands as some sort of subsidized bovine day care facility for a handful of ranchers.  This needs to be examined fully and acted on.
To address the above the agency needs to insist—particularly on public lands—that ranchers make sure they are doing everything possible to stem potential problems.  Conditions have changed with the natural arrival of the wolf and ranchers can no longer expect to just dump their cattle at the beginning of the season and pick them up at the end.  WDFW needs to simultaneously set expectations and also offer training and assistance.  And ranchers need to remember that the original public lands grazing fees were set lower because these were lands where conditions such as predation would be higher.
People in Washington State and around the world are deeply saddened by the loss of the Wedge Pack—particularly so—because this was a tragedy that could and should have been avoided.   The agency likely saved themselves from embarrassing court time through some last minute adjustments, but in the court of public opinion the judgment is strongly and painfully against them.  To satisfy that judgment, WDFW needs to remember and be true to all aspects of their mission, vision and goals (see here) and get to the job of recovering wolves, because the “class” is currently out there shooting spit wads and paperclips and it has to stop now.
Take action in Washington on October 5th:
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Press Release: Washington State Resumes Hunt for Wolves With Aim to Destroy Wedge Pack

For immediate release

September 5, 2012

Contact:    Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
                  Bob Ferris, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463     

OLYMPIA, Wash.— Following two depredations last week, the state of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife ended its brief wolf-hunting reprieve and is again gunning to kill up to four wolves in the Wedge pack, with the aim of potentially breaking up the pack.  

“These wolves should not be killed,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As long as Washington’s wolves remain endangered, every effort should be made to resolve wolf-livestock conflicts through nonlethal means, and by compensation of ranchers — which in this case has already occurred.”

Wolves from the Salmo Pack in Washington (WDFW)


Unlike some of the previous incidents of injury or death of livestock, which the department appeared to have erroneously determined were caused by wolves, the two depredations late last week appear to have indeed been caused by wolves, according to outside experts.  

Minimal action was taken to resolve the conflict with the Wedge pack using nonlethal means, including moving calving to areas not used by wolves, turning the calves out later and sending cowboys to check on the cows more frequently, according to information on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website. Many other actions designed to avoid fatal conflicts between livestock and wolves were not taken, including the use of a range rider or guard animals, or the practice of hazing wolves when they come near livestock. Resolving conflicts using nonlethal measures before killing wolves is a requirement of Washington’s wolf-management plan.

"Regardless of whether or not it is ultimately determined that wolves clearly killed livestock in the Wedge area, the experience to date has indicated that the department needs to take some time to get its ducks in row," said Bob Ferris, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands. "Endangered species such as wolves need to be managed with clear rules and solid procedures by people adequately trained in this process, and we hope to see that in the future."

The department killed a female wolf from the Wedge pack — so named because its range includes a triangle-shaped area defined by the Canadian border and the Kettle and Columbia rivers — on Aug. 7.

Wolves are just beginning to make a comeback in Washington after a government-sponsored program of poisoning, shooting and trapping the animal to extinction in the state. Since the historic return of wolves to Washington in 2008, eight packs have become established in the state. This past December the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted the “Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington,” a stakeholder-developed framework that outlines recovery and management objectives for wolves in Washington.


Relevant Links:

Previous Wedge Pack Press Release 

Wedge Pack Blog Post


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