State officials have canceled a series of public meetings about possible changes to the state’s wolf-management policy, citing fear of violence.
The Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife had planned 14 public meetings from Spokane to Montesano to kick off a yearslong process of creating a new wolf-management policy, once wolves are no longer protected under the state and federal endangered species acts.
Instead, the department is hosting online webinars. The dates have not yet been announced.
Staci Lehman, spokeswoman for the agency, said the decision was made after agency law enforcement determined they didn’t have the resources to staff the meetings where there was a possibility they could be disorderly, or even unsafe.
Lehman declined to be more specific about what it was that worried law enforcement officials.
“We are doing the ‘better safe than sorry’ on this,” she said. “It boils down to public safety, we have a responsibility to make sure not only the public but the staff are safe.”
Conflict over the state’s policies has been simmering for years, as the state has on multiple occasions killed wolves in the Colville National Forest after the wolves preyed on cattle belonging to Diamond M Ranch, including the Wedge Pack in 2012, the first Profanity Peak Pack in 2016, the Sherman Pack in 2017 and the Old Profanity Territory Pack in 2018.
The latest uproar comes on the heels of controversy over the killing of a pack the morning of an Aug. 16 hearing before a superior court judge in Seattle on a restraining order under a lawsuit filed earlier this month. The wolves were dead before the judge could rule — in favor of the plaintiffs. A hearing is planned on the merits of the lawsuit; meanwhile, the restraining order on killing any more wolves in the area is in place.
The department asserts there are no wolves from the targeted pack left in the area.
Some are looking for change.
A digital billboard will be erected Sept. 2 along Interstate 5 at Fife calling on Gov. Jay Inslee to put a stop to the killing. The billboard was paid for by the Western Wildlife Conservation, a citizens’ group. Also in the works is a potential initiative on the ballot in 2020 that would ban the state from spending money on killing predators, including wolves, on public land.
“There is a growing body of citizens that demands that changes be made to reflect the values of the citizens of the state of Washington” said Hank Seipp, a real estate broker in Spokane who is director of the citizens’ group.
The group is also exploring an initiative to make the Department of Fish and Wildlife a cabinet agency reporting to the governor, rather than to the Fish and Wildlife Commission. The group also has put up more than 30 wildlife cameras in northeastern Washington and in the Cascades, to photograph animals going about their lives, to make their presence real for people.
Don Dashiell, a Stevens County Commissioner and member of the Wolf Advisory Group that helps inform state wolf policy, said he was surprised by the cancellation of the public meetings which were to be held in rural areas around the state. “I was looking forward to them in Colville and Spokane, just to see what the tone of the meetings was going to be,” he said. “I don’t think they had anything to fear.”
Wolf recovery continues steadily in Washington, said Donny Martorello, wolf policy lead for the state, with populations continuing to increase. “We are getting closer to those recovery objectives,” Martorello said.
As of the end of 2018, Washington was home to at least 126 wolves, 27 packs and 15 successful breeding pairs.