OLYMPIA - The Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee last week approved two bills that would reduce the restraints on landowners and county legislative authorities from lethally removing a wolf posing an immediate threat to livestock and/or domestic animals.
Both bills have been sent to the Rules Committee for floor-vote consideration.
Substitute Senate Bill (SSB) 5187 would allow livestock owners, their family members and employees to trap or kill gray wolves without a permit from the Department of Fish and Wildlife if their livestock or domestic animals are being attacked. The wolf must be an immediate threat to livestock and other animals and if a wolf is killed and is not found to have been an immediate threat, the taking of that wolf would violate state wildlife rules.
However, conservation groups and some lawmakers are concerned about the effect the legislation could have on present wolf management programs if passed into law.
Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest would prefer the legislature to take a look at improving non-lethal management techniques in order to deter wolves from attacking livestock and domestic animals.
"Wolves aren't angels or devils; they can respond favorably to management techniques," he said.
Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle) said he was uncomfortable with the language of SB 5187 and says the bill's enforcement specifics are unclear.
A second proposal, Senate Bill (SB) 5188, would permit county legislative authority to lethally remove wolves attacking livestock based on three conditions: the wolf or wolves had attacked livestock on private property on at least two occasions; the attacks present a pattern that pose an imminent threat to private property or commercial livestock operations; and the Department of Fish and Wildlife has yet to take action to prevent these threats.
Okanogan County Commissioner Sheilah Kennedy believes county officials should have the authority outlined in the bill without fear of interference from state wildlife officials.
"We should have the authority to make those tough decisions when they are before us and they are devastating the people of our county," she said.
Prime sponsor of both bills, Sen. John Smith (Colville), claimed that these bills, if enacted into law, will bolster the rights set out by the founders in the Second Amendment.
"When our founders gave us the right to protect our property with the Second Amendment, I don't think they had in mind that we should hide inside of our houses as predators destroy our property," said Smith.
"These bills would not declare open-season on wolves," he said.
According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the statewide minimum count for resident wolves in the state of Washington is 51. Last year, that count was only 27.
The House companion bill to SB 5187, HB 1991, is scheduled for an executive session Thursday (Feb. 21) in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
- Kylee Zabel is a reporter for the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.