SPOKANE — A judge temporarily blocked the killing of the sole surviving member of the Old Profanity Territory wolf pack.

The ruling by King County Superior Court Judge John McHale comes after the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has already killed four of the five wolves in the pack, following repeated cattle attacks and killings.

The lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court by two Seattle residents and supported by the Center for a Humane Economy, a newly formed animal welfare group based in Washington, D.C., whose president is Wayne Pacelle, the former CEO of the Humane Society of the U.S.

When the suit was first filed on Aug. 1, it sought a temporary restraining order on the lethal removal order. The judge denied that order.

On Friday, the judge ruled that the question — whether the rancher deployed adequate non-lethal deterrents — could proceed to trial and temporarily blocked any ongoing lethal action.

Pacelle framed the ruling as a victory writing in an email that the ranchers and “the state didn’t do their due diligence on non-lethal methods and ruled in our favor.”

“Having to carry out lethal removals of wolves is a difficult situation and something the department takes very seriously,” said Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Staci Lehman in an email. “WDFW makes every effort to make a responsible decision after considering the available evidence. We appreciate the time the court put into reviewing this material and will work with the court throughout the process ahead.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Fish and Wildlife department broke the law as well as the state Wolf Advisory Group’s policies by reauthorizing a lethal removal order on the Old Profanity Territory pack in late July. The lethal removal order followed repeated wolf attacks on cattle owned by a single rancher grazing on Colville National Forest land.

The pack inhabits the geographic area formerly occupied by the Profanity Peak Pack until the state killed seven pack members in 2016.

The most recent lawsuit against Fish and Wildlife is similar to one the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups filed last year. That suit challenged the killing of Old Profanity Territory pack members in 2018.

Meanwhile, the 18-member Wolf Advisory Group, which represents the concerns of environmentalists, hunters and livestock ranchers, is in the process of revising its protocols following the approval of a new law Gov. Jay Inslee signed this year.

The bill calls for the Fish and Wildlife department to consider the wolf population and recovery status of different regions when deciding how to deal with conflict. The bill also directs the state to spend nearly $1 million over the next two years on nonlethal deterrents in northeastern Washington.

“We are in a bit of a holding pattern. No hearing has been scheduled for the case yet, and we have concerns that the issuance of the new protocol may affect the case since it is based on the 2017 protocol,” said Sophia Ressler, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Washington’s wolf population has grown an average of 28 percent a year since 2008. The state documented a minimum of 126 individual wolves, 27 packs and 15 successful breeding pairs during the most recent annual population survey.

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