Ranchers, wildlife groups denounce lawsuit against USDA Wildlife Services

March 9, 2015

A recent announcement by five radical environmental groups that they are suing USDA Wildlife Services regarding wolf removal in Washington is gaining strong condemnation from agriculture groups and wildlife conservationists who argue the suit is frivolous and hampers responsible management of wolves.

The Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Cattle Producers of Washington, Spokane County Cattlemen and Washington Residents Against Wolves said the lawsuit that challenges USDA Wildlife Services’ authority to kill wolves in Washington is dismissive of the real challenges of a growing wolf population.

“The organizations behind this suit are taking a clear and public stance that they do not care about the cost to ranch families, rural communities or prey populations like deer, elk and moose that suffer when wolf populations are not kept in check,” said Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Justin Hedrick. “It’s easy to sit in your cubicle somewhere and criticize the on-the-ground challenges when it isn’t your family or your livelihood at risk.”

The lawsuit against USDA Wildlife Services was filed on March 3 by Cascadia Wildlands, The Lands Council, Kettle Range Conservation Group, Predator Defense and WildEarth Guardians.

The groups assert that although the USDA has already completed an Environmental Assessment(EA) on the impact of removing wolves in Washington, their lawsuit claims that there is not enough data in the EA to support wolf removal and calls the agency “reckless” for removing a problem wolf in the Huckleberry pack in the summer of 2014. The groups also take issue with USDA Wildlife Services advising the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on the removal of the Wedge pack in 2012.

“It is ironic that these groups are taking issue with removing problem wolves after the ranches involved had already exhausted non-lethal methods and allowed state and agency personnel to intervene on their private property,” said Hedrick. “These ranches did all they could to try to stop the killing of their animals but once wolves started after livestock, there was no way to stop it. There was no other option but lethal removal.”

A press release from the environmental groups regarding their lawsuit against USDA also claims that wolves in Washington are “far from recovered.”

Washington Residents Against Wolves Spokesman Luke Hedquist takes exception to the claim and notes that wolves are well established not only in Washington, but in neighboring states and throughout North America.

“There are over 65,000 wolves in North America, 670 wolves in Idaho, 650 wolves in Montana and over 300 wolves in Wyoming. Wolves have been removed from the Endangered Species List in all three of these states and the states allow for hunting just to try and keep the wolf populations in check,” Hedquist said. “In Washington, we are experiencing a high concentration of wolves in Eastern Washington that are creating dangerous situations for livestock owners, pet owners and hunters with likely more than 100 wolves in the area. By saying that USDA should not be able to remove wolves, these groups are advocating that public safety, other wildlife species, communities and economies should not be taken into consideration when managing wolves. This suit is essentially calling for non-management.”

The Inland Northwest Wildlife Council (INWC), a sportsman’s group with over 500 members and families, said it is seriously concerned about how the lawsuit seeks to run a strictly pro-wolf agenda without taking into consideration the complexity of the issue.

“When you sue to remove a tool from the toolbox, in this case the ability for USDA Wildlife Services to aid in removal of problem wolves by tying it up with red tape, it means these litigants are not considering the impact of an unchecked wolf population,” said INWC President Leonard Wolf. “Hunters and recreationalists in other states know that part of wolf management is sometimes wolf removal. Ignoring that fact means you will have severe declines in prey population as they experienced in Yellowstone when the number of Elk dropped from 19,000 to under 4,000 due to wolf depredations.”

“We need good, responsible management of wolves in Washington that considers all the available options so we don’t create situations that harm communities or wildlife,” Wolf added.

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