Death Threats Prompt Move To Withhold Personal Information From Wolf Management Documents

Feb 2, 2017
Originally published on February 2, 2017 8:39 pm

A bill in a committee of the Washington House of Representatives would exempt some personal information relating to the state’s wolf management efforts from public disclosure.

Supporters say it will keep those who work directly with wolves safe. Opponents are concerned about the loss of transparency.

Whether you like wolves or not, the folks who come in contact with them aren’t necessarily threatened by the top carnivore, but recently, they have stopped feeling safe.

On one end of that are the people who work for the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Shortly after they started shooting wolves from the Profanity Peak pack in Northeastern Washington last summer, Donny Martorello said he decided to put his family up in a hotel.

“I’m a biologist, I’m a manager, a wolf manager,” Martorello said. “I don’t carry a gun, I’m not law enforcement, and I did sign up for the job but my family did not.”

Martorello is in charge of Washington’s wolf policy. During a hearing, he told members of the Committee on State Government, Elections and Information Technology that he and colleagues received death threats, harassing phone calls and messages.

And he said it doesn’t just happen to him and his colleagues. He said some ranchers--or “livestock producers” have reported having their photos taken and their homes stalked.

“There are producers out there that I have spoken with personally that believe that they are having interactions where wolves are attacking their livestock and they are fearful of coming to the department for reasons that we just talked about,” Martorello said.

By the 1930s there were no wolves left in Washington state. People got used to that. In 2005, the state started receiving reliable reports of their return. Under a new policy implemented last year, managers can lethally remove wolves after four confirmed reports of wolf-killed livestock or pets.

That’s exactly what happened last summer.

A news story about the efforts to lethally remove the wolves prompted state Rep. Joel Kretz, a Republican from Okanogan County, to co-sponsor House Bill 1465, which would amend state law to exempt personal information for anyone connected to a report of a wolf or a wolf-kill from public disclosure.

“The big problem that we’re trying to get out here is that the people, whose animals were attacked were named,” Kretz said. “They were on the front page of the Seattle Times with not only their address but their personal phone number, instantly getting hit with death threats nonstop.”

The newspaper did name a livestock producer and describe the general location of his ranch. News industry representatives said at the hearing that the story was linked to supporting documents at the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website. They said that’s where ranchers’ personal information could be found. They also said the link was later removed.

Roland Thompson is the executive director for the Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington. He agrees that anyone who files a report about a problem wolf should not be intimidated.

“It’s the rest of this information that we’re paying good money to have done – the identities of the people of the agency that are working on this, they are in essence law enforcement, they are armed and they are moving about the landscape and they are acting on policies that are set by the legislature and implemented by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and we need to know who those people are and what their actions are that they are taking,” Thompson said.

Democratic state Rep. Sherry Appleton of the Kitsap Peninsula argued the bill proposal might go about protecting sensitive information in the wrong way.

“if it’s the threat and the harassment that we are talking about with this bill, then I think we should do legislation to prohibit fish and wildlife from releasing the names and numbers and addresses,” Appleton said.

In other words, she said legislation should keep private phone numbers and addresses private, but it should not limit what we can know about what public employees do on public land.

The committee is now scheduled to decide whether to advance the bill to the House for consideration.

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