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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Groups Fight to Protect NW Gray Wolves

SEATTLE (CN) - A federal wolf management plan to protect livestock will kill more than half of Washington's 52 known gray wolves and violate environmental laws, conservationists claim in court.

The federal plan will result in the needless killing of wolves from the state's 15 packs, Cascadia Wildlands and four other groups claim in the March 3 federal lawsuit.

The sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services Wildlife Services, and its top officers in the Western Region and Washington state.

The plan allows Wildlife Services to shoot and trap wolves suspected of feeding on livestock.

But the groups say Wildlife Services staff are incompetent killers. They cite a series of Sacramento Bee articles exposing financial and ethical problems with the agency, including an incident in which an employee posted photographs online of his dogs attacking a coyote caught in a trap.

The agency bungled a previous attempt to kill members of the Huckleberry Pack for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the complaint states.

Under a 2014 contract with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wildlife Services "attempted to lethally remove members of the Huckleberry Wolf Pack," the complaint states.

It continues: "WDFW provided Wildlife Services with instructions to not shoot the alpha male or alpha female of the Huckleberry Pack." But on Aug. 23, 2014, "Wildlife Services shot the alpha female of the Huckleberry Pack despite explicit instructions from WDFW to not shoot the alpha female of the Huckleberry Pack. Wildlife Services continued to provide lethal wolf management assistance to WDFW after shooting the alpha female of the Huckleberry Pack."

The alpha female was the only member of the pack that Wildlife Services shot.

The management plan authorizes Wildlife Services to lethally remove wolves in areas where the animals are not listed under the Endangered Species Act. It allows the killing of one grizzly bear and more than 30 wolves.

The conservationists claim the agency's final Environmental Assessment failed to consider alternatives to killing wolves, including prohibiting Wildlife Services from killing wolves on public lands. Wildlife Services killed a wolf just three days after it issued the environmental assessment at issue, the groups say.

The assessment did not analyze the impacts of wolf removal, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act, nor the ecological effects of wolf removal, cumulative effects of wolf management activities in neighboring states and Canada and effects on non-target animals, the complaint states.

Wildlife Services refused to supplement its environmental analysis as required when new research found that lethal removal of wolves could lead to an increase in livestock attacks, according to the complaint.

"There are significant new circumstances or information relevant to the environmental impacts of the Wildlife Services Gray Wolf Damage Management in Washington Environmental Assessment and Decision Notice/Finding of No Significant Impact, including, but not limited to: the publication of a paper by lead author Dr. Robert Wielgus of Washington State University titled 'Effects of Wolf Mortality on Livestock Depredations' on the impacts and efficacy of lethal wolf control to address livestock depredations by wolves. This peer-reviewed study concludes that lethal removal of depredating wolves leads to an increase in livestock depredations. This study was published in December 2014. Plaintiffs provided defendants with a copy of this study before filing suit. Plaintiffs requested that defendants prepare a supplemental NEPA analysis to address the findings of this study before filing suit. This study represents significant new information that requires defendants to supplement the Wildlife Services Gray Wolf Damage Management in Washington EA, [environmental assessment]," the complaint states.

The conservationists want the plan vacated and an injunction stopping Wildlife Services agents from killing wolves until a new environmental analysis is conducted.

Co-plaintiffs are Wildearth Guardians, Kettle Range Conservation Group, The Lands Council and Predator Defense

They are represented by John Mellgren with the Western Environmental Law Center.

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