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Originally published Friday, March 8, 2013 at 5:40 PM

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Wash. Senate OKs killing wolves without permit

The Washington state Senate passed a measure Friday to allow livestock and pet owners to shoot gray wolves without a permit when the wolves are attacking or threatening their animals.

Associated Press

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Thank god, that there are some folks in Olympia with common sense... This is one of the... MORE

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

The Washington state Senate passed a measure Friday to allow livestock and pet owners to shoot gray wolves without a permit when the wolves are attacking or threatening their animals.

The bill is the latest salvo in an ongoing debate over how to cope with the reintroduction -and subsequent population rise - of the predatory canines in northeastern Washington state.

"We have the right to protect our families and our properties and our livelihoods," said Sen. John Smith, R-Colville, the bill's sponsor. "It's a fundamental principle of the American system."

Bill opponents say it would hurt the state's wolf recovery efforts and contradicts years of effort put into hashing out a state wolf plan.

"This bill undermines a three-year intensive public process that the ranchers agreed to, as did the environmentalists," said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island.

Asked whether the bill would invite an open season on wolves, Ranker said that "it would create a slippery slope. It's absolutely a step in that direction."

At present, citizens can get a caught-in-the-act permit to kill wolves, but only after the state confirms that wolves have killed or injured their livestock and that nonlethal means of stopping the wolf attacks have been exhausted.

Two such permits were issued last year, though neither was used, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The wolf debate is relatively new to Washington state.

Five years ago, there were only a handful of wolves in the state. By contrast, there are now between eight and 12 wolf packs, with as many as 100 wolves in total. All are well to the east of the Cascade mountains, and many of those living in their midst say they are bearing the burden of the state's wolf recovery efforts.

Smith's bill passed by a vote of 25-23 with mostly Republican support, and with Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom not voting. It heads next to the Democratic-controlled House.

Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said he supports the bill and will give it a hearing but acknowledges that it faces steep odds of passing out of the Legislature.

Blake lamented the killing last year by the state of a wolf pack that had repeatedly attacked livestock in Stevens County, saying he fears that as the wolves multiply, inaction by lawmakers will lead to more conflict.

"It's a powder keg over there and I'm worried about what's going to happen this spring," Blake said.

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Follow AP Writer Jonathan Kaminsky at http://www.twitter.com/ejekaminsky

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