Senate Democrats attempted to limit the scope of a bill that would allow Washington State property owners to kill a wolf threatening owners’ livestock or pets by offering amendments during floor debate March 8.
The legislation passed 25 to 23 without those amendments and now moves onto the House for further consideration.
Four amendments were offered – three by Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island) and one by Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) – that, in sum, would have required livestock owners to have a permit and cooperative wolf management action plan in place prior to seeking lethal management methods.
The amendments would also authorize the killing of wolves only on private lands and would have sent the measure, if passed by the Legislature, to a vote of the people.
Sponsor of the legislation Sen. John Smith (R-Colville) and other Republican Senate members said that the amendments would effectively defeat the bill’s purpose: to restore the constitutional right to protect one’s livelihood and property.
“Why should you have to wait for the bureaucracy to process a permit and to prove that it was a wolf or wolves that caused the damage? Common sense tells you that if your pets or livestock are in danger, you should be able to protect them,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville).
Smith also expressed concern about allowing the measure to require a referendum vote. Because the Legislature’s constitutionally mandated paramount duty is K-12 funding, Smith said that the costs of putting a referendum on the ballot would take money away from fulfilling that legislative priority.
“Referendums are not cheap,” he said. “Every dollar that we waste on a political game is a dollar that we take away from the essential, fundamental services that we have a fiduciary responsibility to provide to the citizens of the state of Washington.”
Current law states that, in order to kill a wolf, a permit must be issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and non-lethal methods must have been attempted prior to killing a wolf.
The bill at issue, SB 5187, was largely opposed by conservation groups and Democrat senators during a public hearing on the bill Jan. 29. Many of the arguments made against the legislation related to the belief that the current wolf-management plan established by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would deteriorate as a result of its passage.
Some believe that this bill would declare open season on wolves, an accusation Smith rejects.
Conservation groups signed up in opposition to the bill include the Center for Biological Diversity and Conservation Northwest as well as several private citizens.
During floor debate Friday, Smith stated that comments made by senators opposing the bill demonstrated a drastic lack of knowledge as to how wolf predation adversely affects citizens in his district and others where known wolf packs roam.
There are eight known wolf packs throughout the state, six of which are located in northeastern Washington. The estimated wolf count has increased from 27 to 51 over the past year according to the DNR.
Ranker argued that Senate Republicans were ignoring the desire of Washingtonians to reintroduce wolf populations to the state to implement the management plan’s non-lethal methods of wolf-containment.
According to a 2011 survey, “Understanding People in Places,” conducted by DFW, 75 percent of Washington residents support wolf re-colonization; 66 percent support lethal methods of wolf removal when threatening livestock.
Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle) and others charged that this legislation creates a divide between Western and Eastern Washington that should not exist in crafting public policy.
“We are one state,” said Kline. “Sometimes I wonder in the way we make laws if they are only for our own regions and not for the whole state.”
While the concern may be localized for now as wolf populations are still contained within their present regions, Sen. Mike Carrell (R-Lakewood) said that those opposed to the bill may start to feel differently once wolf packs expand and migrate closer to urban areas.
Since 2007, nine domestic animals and livestock were recorded killed and 15 injured by wolves. Most of these, according to the DNR, were a result of a pack in northwestern Stevens County. Only two wolves in that pack are believed to have survived after 2012 efforts by DNR to remove the pack.
A companion bill to SB 5187 was introduced in the House this session, but was not awarded a hearing.