Environmental groups called on Gov. Jay Inslee today to reform wolf management in Washington after the sudden removal of conservationist Tim Coleman from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wolf Advisory Group.
Today’s letter urges Inslee to reject the Department’s resistance to reform and calls for the crafting of a new state wolf protocol to be a public process. It also notes that Coleman’s dismal violated his First Amendment rights.
Coleman, who had served on the advisory group since 2015, is the executive director of Kettle Range Conservation Group. He lives and works in northeast Washington, where most of the state’s wolves reside and where most livestock-wolf conflict in the state has occurred. The Department of Fish and Wildlife cited his participation in lawsuits, protests, interviews and other core free-speech activities critical of the Department as the reason for his removal last week from the advisory group.
“The removal of Tim Coleman from the Wolf Advisory Group has once again signaled to the public that the voices of those who do not want wolves recklessly slaughtered are disregarded by the Wolf Advisory Group and the Department,” said Samantha Bruegger, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians.
“Gov. Inslee should be gravely concerned by the appalling decision to remove such a knowledgeable voice from the Wolf Advisory Group,” said Amaroq Weiss, a West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is an attack on free speech and clear evidence that wolf policy should be decided through public rule-making, not by an insulated body of people who won’t stand up to the Department.”
The Wolf Advisory Group, also known as WAG, represents various interests across the state and is tasked with making recommendations on wolf management in Washington. Coleman’s removal from the group occurred just one day before a scheduled two-day meeting where the group considered significant revisions to the Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol, which the Department relies on heavily when making decisions to kill wolves. Coleman said he was “devastated” by his dismissal, which came after the livestock industry lobby demanded his removal.
“I was honored to serve on the Wolf Advisory Group, where I was often the only voice speaking for those who believe wolves have a right to live in our state’s forests,” Coleman said. “The WAG is supposed to bring a diversity of viewpoints together to try to find solutions. But the Department only wants members who will fall into line, even when it violates the protocol the WAG agreed to, and senselessly kills wolves to appease the livestock industry, like it did with the OPT pack last year. The WAG has just become a means for the Department to silence its critics by pretending to give them a seat at the table.”
Several of the groups that sent today’s letter also appealed a petition for rulemaking to Inslee in June. The appeal urged the governor to overturn the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s decision not to undergo public rulemaking and subsequent environmental analysis related to the issues of non-lethal deterrence and chronic conflict zones.
As part of this decision, Department staff cited the Wolf Advisory Group as providing a robust opportunity for public participation. Yet during last week’s group meeting, members of the public delivering comments critical of the Department and of Coleman’s ouster from the Wolf Advisory Group were cut off by the meeting facilitator.
“The Department’s claims that the collaborative group was the best opportunity for robust public engagement was already questionable,” said Jocelyn Leroux, Washington and Montana director for Western Watersheds Project. “Now, the sudden removal of Tim Coleman makes it very clear that the department will go to great lengths to silence those that stand for best available science and wildlife conservation rather than reckless wolf slaughter.”
“The Department and the Wolf Advisory Group are not held accountable to the public, and has never been about fair, public process,” said Rachel Bjork, president of the Northwest Animal Rights Network. “If the Department is going to claim it doesn’t need to go through a rule-making process because the WAG meetings allow for robust public involvement, then it needs to walk its talk. Removing the key conservation stakeholder from the WAG has put a wedge in the public’s trust of this state agency.”
Coleman is currently exploring potential options for challenging the Department’s decision.