SPOKANE — A wolf caught in the act of attacking livestock or pets in parts of Washington can immediately be killed by the property owner without a permit, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission decided Friday.
Previously, livestock owners needed to obtain a state permit to kill a gray wolf that was attacking their animals.
The commission unanimously approved a temporary emergency rule requested this week by a bipartisan group of state legislators.
"We feel this proposed emergency rule is necessary for public safety and welfare," said commission chair Miranda Wecker of Naselle.
The rule can remain in effect for up to eight months. The panel also decided to pursue a permanent rule allowing the killing of a wolf caught in the act of attacking livestock or pets — a process that will take months and could result in a rule different from the emergency provision.
Commissioners noted there have been recent and escalating reports of wolf attacks on pets and livestock, particularly in northeastern Washington, where the bulk of the state's estimated 100 gray wolves are located. Wolf numbers have grown rapidly in recent years as the animals migrate to Washington from other states.
The state last year had to wipe out a pack of wolves known as the Wedge Pack that was preying on cattle.
Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest said the environmental group did not oppose the emergency rule.
"Adoption of this rule is overall in the best interests of wolf recovery," Friedman said.
The emergency rule covers only parts of the state, primarily northeastern Washington, where wolves are not protected by the federal endangered species act. However, federal officials have drafted rules to rescind endangered species protection from wolves across the Lower 48 states.
Under the emergency rule, the owner of domestic animals, or a family member or employee, may kill one gray wolf without a permit issued by the director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Any wolf killed must be reported to the state within 24 hours, and the wolf carcass must be surrendered to the wildlife department. The owner of the domestic animals must allow the agency access to their property to investigate whether the killing was justified.
If the killing was not justified, the killer of the wolf may be prosecuted for unlawful taking of endangered wildlife, the rule said.
Conversely, the director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife may authorize the killing of additional wolves if needed.
Commissioners were told the rule is needed because lambing and calving season has arrived, and livestock are moving into open range where more wolf attacks are anticipated. Warming weather also means more people and pets will be outdoors.
Other states have similar rules, and they typically result in only a handful of wolf deaths per year because it is difficult to catch wolves in the act of attacking livestock or pets, commissioners were told. In Idaho, for instance, 50 wolves were killed between 2001 and 2010 under such circumstances, DFW Director Phil Anderson told commissioners.
"This rule will not inhibit or take away from the speed at which the wolf population will recover in the state of Washington," Anderson said.
He noted the public will have ample opportunity to comment as the agency works to create a permanent rule that allows owners to kill wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock or pets.
Commissioner Chuck Perry of Moses Lake said he was a little concerned about the limit of killing one wolf, because they are pack animals.
But he said a pack of wolves is likely to scatter quickly if one of their members is shot: "They don't like guns or gunfire."