(CN) – Washington Governor Jay Inslee revealed his opposition Wednesday to the Trump administration’s plan to remove gray wolves from the federal Endangered Species List – contradicting the position of the state’s Fish & Wildlife director, who also Wednesday announced the state will kill two federally protected wolves because they hunted cattle grazing on public land.
“Governor Inslee does not support a nationwide proposal that delists gray wolves from the federal endangered species list in all of the lower 48 states because there are many areas where wolves have not yet been recovered,” Inslee spokeswoman Jessie Payne said in an email (bold in original).
Instead, Payne says Inslee supports “a scientific approach that allows delisting only in areas where wolves have been recovered and a science-based management plan is in place. Washington state has a strong wolf management plan that is based on sound science, promotes social tolerance of wolves on our landscape, and has resulted in wolf populations that are recovering,” Payne said.
The head of Washington’s Fish & Wildlife Department, Kelly Susewind, submitted a letter on April 18 to the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife saying Washington supports the Trump administration’s proposal to remove gray wolves from the federal Endangered Species List as it pertains to the wolf population in the western two-thirds of the Evergreen State.
The public comment period closes Monday.
Peer review scientists hired by the government evaluated the plan and found it ignores the best available science. Four out of five peer reviewers said the proposal misrepresents the science, and one panelist said it seems to have been written with a predetermined conclusion in mind.
“It looks like they decided to delist and then they compiled all the evidence that they thought supported that decision. It simply doesn’t support the decision,” said Adrian Treves, an environmental studies professor at the University of Wisconsin.
A similar row erupted in Oregon when Gov. Kate Brown wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt in May to “clarify and correct” a letter from Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife that supported delisting.
But Payne said Inslee was taking a hands-off approach to the Evergreen State’s new plan to kill wolves in the northeastern corner of the state.
On Thursday, state officials will try to kill up to two members of northeastern Washington’s Old Profanity Territory wolf pack because they killed cattle grazing on federally owned land.
“WDFW is a separate, independent agency from our office,” Payne wrote. “The governor’s office does not make these authorizations.”
Last year, the Old Profanity Territory pack killed three cows and injured another 13. Fish & Wildlife, which had already killed 16 wolves for the same rancher, responded by killing two pack members in September – stopping short of killing the last two members of the pack.
This spring, state officials said the pack had grown to five adults, and trail cameras later showed at least four pups have been born.
Last week, authorities found a mostly eaten cow, covered in bite wounds and surrounded by wolf tracks. GPS data showed the Old Profanity Pack had been in the area.
Susewind said Wednesday the department would launch “incremental removal,” which consists of initially killing one or two wolves and potentially more if livestock attacks continue. The incremental removal period will end when the wolves have not killed any livestock for 10 months.
Sophia Ressler, Washington wildlife advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said part of the problem is the area is ideal wolf habitat: steep, forested mountains in the remote Kettle River range northwest of Spokane. The land is federally owned and covered in fallen trees that make cattle grazing and monitoring tough.
“They keep killing wolves in this same area for this same producer and they keep coming back,” Ressler said. “State and federal officials could find an alternate grazing allotment that isn’t such fantastic wolf habitat.”
Fish & Wildlife points to various nonlethal measures taken by the rancher, such as waiting to graze calves until they weigh at least 200 pounds and removing sick and injured cattle, and the government’s installation of a range rider to monitor the grazing area.
“This is a very difficult situation for all those involved, especially given the history of wolf-livestock conflict in this area,” Susewind said in a statement. “Our goal is to change this pack’s behavior.”
There is no scientific evidence that killing wolves protects livestock. Studies have shown, however, that killing wolves can destabilize their social structure and cause survivors to increase predation of livestock.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture found in a 2017 paper that wolf predation of livestock was 3.5 times higher in areas where wolves were killed for eating livestock, versus nearby areas where nonlethal methods were used instead.
And a 2014 study published by Washington State University researcher Robert Wielgus found killing wolves increased predation of livestock by destabilizing the social structure of a pack. Wielgus resigned last year as part of a settlement over his claims the school cut his funding because of the study’s political implications.
Ressler said her organization is frustrated by Washington state’s continued reliance on killing to change pack behavior, when no such changes have occurred.
“We think we need a new solution,” Ressler said. “Something that doesn’t require them to slaughter wolves every time there’s a depredation, when we know that’s not working.”