In a Nov. 3 press release, Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer made two surprising claims: wolves are being introduced into the Washington county, and it is unconstitutional to arrest someone for killing a wolf that is attacking livestock or pets.
Both claims are unfounded.
They may leave some constituents with the mistaken impression that it’s legal to kill a wolf in Klickitat County under certain circumstances.
Phantom ‘introduction’ program
“Wolves should not be introduced in Klickitat County, Washington.”
That was the opening line of Songer’s press release, which says it’s his “understanding” that wolves are already being introduced into the county and “are to be protected” under federal and state law.
“I think it’s a bad idea to see wolves introduced in Klickitat County,” he reiterated in a Facebook video update posted recently.
Songer told Columbia Insight he issued the press release with the hope that the state’s wildlife agency would not introduce wolves in his county.
“In my opinion, they don’t need to be here, period,” he said.
Songer said he would prefer that wolves be introduced in King County or other parts of Western Washington where they might be more welcome than in Klickitat County.
There’s no evidence of any existing or proposed federal or state program to introduce the gray wolf into Klickitat County—or rather, to reintroduce a species that was almost entirely eradicated from the Pacific Northwest by the early 1900s.
“Gray wolves have re-established on their own in Washington, under protection of both federal and state endangered species acts, from neighboring states and Canadian provinces without any reintroductions,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife statewide wolf specialist Ben Maletzke in a statement to Columbia Insight.
“With populations of wolves established in the North Cascades, northeast Washington, and the Blue Mountains in southeast Washington, wolves are starting to disperse from existing packs in those areas to expand their current range and form packs in new areas, including in the South Cascades. There have been naturally re-established resident wolves in Klickitat County for almost two years,” said Maletzke.
The region’s first wolf pack was publicly announced in April.
Dubbed the Big Muddy Pack, it then consisted of a collared male and an un-collared female traveling together within a large territory in the southwest portion of the Yakama Indian Reservation and western Klickitat County.
Songer told Columbia Insight he did not know whether the wolves had entered Klickitat County on their own.
Selective law enforcement
Regardless of how wolves arrived in Klickitat County, “I don’t think they need to be protected,” the sheriff says.
In his press release, Sheriff Songer stated his belief that arresting someone for killing a wolf that is attacking livestock or pets would be a violation of that person’s constitutional rights.
“As Sheriff, I will not enforce laws that appear to be unconstitutional and violate the rights of our citizens,” he wrote.
Songer’s reasoning is that domestic animals are private property, and the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment provides that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process.”
His claim echoes those made in legal cases that have challenged government restrictions on the defensive measures a property owner may take to protect cattle, sheep, dogs and other domestic animals from endangered species such as wolves and grizzly bears.
However, these Fifth Amendment cases have not been successful in court.
Nevertheless, Songer has not been shy about applying his own interpretations of the Constitution to his work in law enforcement. A member of the far-right Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, he has previously refused to enforce voter-approved gun restrictions and pandemic-era public health rules requiring masks and social distancing, calling them unconstitutional.
“I’m saying I’m not going to arrest people for protecting their private property,” Songer confirmed. “My job as a constitutional sheriff is to intervene when government oversteps.”
“Caught in the act”
Under Washington’s administrative code, an owner of domestic animals can legally kill a gray wolf that is attacking the owner’s animals. However, this code applies only to wolves in the eastern third of Washington, where wolves are no longer federally listed as endangered species and are managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
In the western two-thirds of Washington, including all of Klickitat County, wolves remain under federal protection and the “caught in the act” provision for killing wolves does not apply.
“An individual is not allowed to lethally remove, haze, or otherwise harass a wolf in the western two-thirds of Washington, even if the wolf is involved in the act of depredation of livestock, pets, or property loss,” said Maletzke.
“WDFW staff currently work directly with landowners to help deter potential livestock/wolf interactions using nonlethal deterrent methods. In addition, presentations and workshops for landowners have been held in Klickitat County to discuss living with wolves on the landscape,” he said.