SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The state of Washington has issued new rules that allow the Department of Fish and Wildlife to move more quickly when a wolf pack begins preying on livestock.
The state says the new rules are intended to reduce deaths among all the animals involved.
However, the rules were criticized Friday by some environmental groups as making it too easy to hunt down wolves, which are a protected species in Washington.
Under the new rules, a hunt can be initiated if there are at least three attacks by wolves on livestock within 30 days, or four events within 10 months, including one that was not confirmed to be caused by wolves.
The previous rules allowed a hunt only after at least four confirmed attacks by wolves over a year or six over two years.
“If we can act earlier in a pattern of depredation, we hope we can change the behavior of wolves,” said Donny Martorello, wolf project lead for the state agency.
The new rules also call on livestock producers to take at least two proactive steps, such as hiring range riders, to prevent wolves from attacking their herds, Martorello said.
“If we can prevent conflict before it starts, that is a good thing,” he said.
The Center for Biological Diversity said the new rules make it easier to kill the wild animals.
“Washington needs to protect its recovering wolf population, not make it easier to kill these amazing animals,” said Amaroq Weiss of the center.
The Washington Cattlemen’s Association in Ellensburg did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Gray wolves were hunted to extinction in Washington early in the past century. But the animals started migrating into the state in the early 2000s from Idaho and Canada.
At the end of 2016, the state estimated there were a minimum of 115 wolves, 20 packs and 10 successful breeding pairs in the state, up 28 percent from the year before. All of the documented wolf packs are east of the Cascade Range.
The state has killed numerous problem wolves in recent years.
Before a wolf hunt is authorized, the state rules also require the expectation that attacks will continue, and that the killing of problem wolves is not expected to harm the animals’ ability to reach statewide recovery goals.
Weiss said the conditions make it too easy to kill wolves.
“This protocol would allow wolves to be killed even for livestock deaths not confirmed as caused by wolves,” Weiss said.
Another environmental group, Conservation Northwest, supported the new protocol.
“We strongly believe that these policies reflect a balanced approach to wolf conservation and management,” said Paula Swedeen, a member of the group and of the state’s Wolf Advisory Group.