Northwest Briefly: Work to expand prison is ahead of schedule

CONNELL — The Department of Corrections says the expansion of the Coyote Ridge prison at Connell, near the Tri-Cities, is ahead of schedule and within its $184 million budget.

The contractor expects to complete the work by the end of October, two months ahead of its deadline.

The work is adding 2,048 beds to the prison that currently can hold 600 medium-security inmates.

A Corrections spokeswoman, Maria Peterson, said half of the expansion is designed for prisoners who fall between minimum and medium security.

The department says opening Coyote Ridge will reduce the need to transfer inmates out of Washington.

Tacoma: Plea bargain in dog breeder case

A plea bargain has been reached in a case that has cost Pierce County taxpayers close to $100,000 in dog boarding fees.

Bernadette Vohs of Graham, a 44-year-old dog breeder, was scheduled to go to trial Wednesday in Pierce County Superior Court. Instead, lawyers filed notice that a plea hearing in the case is set for Feb. 8.

Vohs is charged with nine counts of second-degree theft and one each of first-degree theft, engaging in business without a valid license, second-degree animal cruelty and operating a kennel without a license.

Authorities seized 38 of her dogs last summer, many have given birth and the county is paying $10 a day for the care of each dog. At 51 dogs, that’s $510 a day.

There’s no word on terms of the plea agreement.

Vancouver, Wash.: Charges in theft

A former North Clark Little League treasurer has been accused of stealing about $68,000.

According to documents filed Wednesday in Clark County Superior Court, 46-year-old Brenda J. Finnegan took the money over a three-year period.

Finnegan was charged last week with seven counts of first-degree theft. She has been summoned to appear in court on Feb. 12.

According to documents filed in court, Finnegan told sheriff’s Deputy Fred Neiman she altered numerous bank checks.

She has been on administrative leave from her job as Yacolt municipal clerk-treasurer since the investigation. Mayor Joe Warren has said no money is believed to be missing from the town’s accounts.

Seattle: Two exotic cats found wandering

Two servals apparently got away in the past month to wander around West Seattle. Both are about 1 year old and had been declawed.

A serval is a wild cat native to Africa that can weigh up to 50 pounds. They are sometimes illegally kept as exotic pets.

Animal Control picked up one on Jan. 1 as it was going after some cat food left on a doorstep. Officers picked up the second one Saturday on the grounds of Madison Middle School.

Officer Don Baxter suspects they both belonged to the same owner, who has not claimed them. One has already been moved to a sanctuary in Redmond.

Baxter says servals are predators that would go after smaller animals such as pet rabbits or chickens.

Pullman: Emaciated eagles cling to life

Two severely emaciated and dehydrated bald eagles are clinging to life at Washington State University.

The two were found separately in Stevens County around Christmas and were first taken to the Mount Spokane Veterinary Hospital. They arrived Tuesday at the wildlife rehabilitation program at the university’s veterinary school in Pullman.

A veterinarian in the teaching hospital, Nickol Finch, says she was happy to see the eagles alive Wednesday. She says she didn’t have that much hope Tuesday night.

A school spokesman, Darin Watkins, says one is about five years old and the other about three.

The rehab program has eight eagles, as well as other animals including owls, bobcats and beavers. Finch says practically all eagles in the program have lead poisoning.

Spokane: Groups sue to protect giant worm

Environmental groups have sued the government to overturn a decision that a rarely seen giant earthworm that spits at attackers does not merit Endangered Species Act protection.

The groups are asking a federal court to overturn a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finding last October that the giant Palouse earthworm does not warrant protection, despite numbers that suggest it may be close to extinction.

The giant earthworm, which can grow as long as 3 feet, lives in the Washington-Idaho region known as the Palouse. One was found by a University of Idaho researcher in May 2005. Before that, the giant worm had not been spotted since 1988.

Searches in 2002 failed to find any.

Oregon: 66 pounds of cocaine found in SUV

Oregon State Police say a traffic stop on I-5 in Salem has led to the arrest of a Washington man who had 66 pounds of cocaine hidden in his sport utility vehicle.

Police said Thursday the cocaine was in a false compartment. They estimated its value at $600,000.

The trooper stopped the SUV over the weekend for speed and lane change violations.

The police identified the suspect as 26-year-old David Chico Monjaraz III.

Monjaraz is being held in Marion County Jail. Citing their investigation, the police would not identify his hometown.

Montana: Rule would allow killing of wolves

A new federal rule would allow state game agencies to kill endangered gray wolves that prey on wildlife in the Northern Rockies.

An estimated 1,545 wolves in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana are to come off the endangered species list in coming weeks, which would allow public hunting of the predators for the first time in decades.

The rule released Thursday is a separate action that would give the three states more latitude to kill wolves even if their removal from the endangered list is delayed.

Opposition to the rule, which could go into effect in late February, came within hours of Thursday’s announcement. Environmental and animal rights groups characterized the federal proposal as cover for states eager to kill as many wolves as possible.

An attorney for the legal group Earthjustice, in Bozeman, Mont., pledged to file a court challenge as soon as the rule is published in the federal register next week.

The rule would empower state wildlife agents to kill packs of wolves if they can prove the animals are having a “major impact” on big game herds such as elk, deer or moose.

It also would allow hunting guides and others to kill wolves caught harassing dogs or stock animals on public land. Previously, only cattle or sheep ranchers whose animals were being harassed could legally shoot the predators.

Associated Press

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