SACRAMENTO — Two statewide farm organizations may walk away from a working group that’s planning for the gray wolf’s arrival in California after a state commission voted to list the animal as endangered.
The California Farm Bureau Federation is polling its members to see if it should stay involved in the 22-member task force, which includes representatives from agriculture as well as environmental and sportsman’s groups, said Noelle Cremers, the CFBF’s natural resources and commodities director.
California Cattlemen’s Association members were expected to discuss their participation in the wolf management group during their summer meeting here June 11-13.
“My knee-jerk reaction when I heard about this was no, we should back out of the whole process,” said Jack Hansen, a cow-calf operator near Susanville, Calif., who’s involved with the CCA on wolf issues. “That (listing) removes many of the logical mitigations many in our industry would like to see put on the table.”
The groups are considering their next steps after the state Fish and Game Commission voted 3-1 on June 4 to list the gray wolf, disregarding the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s advice to wait because there is as yet no established wolf population in the state.
The listing was requested by the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups, which were concerned that a proposal to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for the wolf would make it difficult for the animal to become established here.
Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin of McKinleyville voted against the listing, citing concerns that it would alienate some members of the working group that’s been meeting since late 2011 and was set to come out with wolf management proposals this summer.
“The wolf management plan will continue to drive on,” insisted Andrew Hughan, a DFW spokesman. “We’ll just have to see how many of the stakeholders continue participating in the process.”
Hughan said no groups have yet told the DFW they were walking away, but “realistically … there probably will be a couple,” he said. “That’s too bad. We hope they don’t.”
The wolf management plan will aim to “strike a balance” between maintaining a successful wolf population and protecting livestock, Hughan said.
The plan would “manage distribution” of wolves to where there is adequate habitat and “manage wolf-livestock conflicts to minimize livestock losses,” wildlife program manager Karen Kovacs said during the June 4 meeting.
Some elements of the plan may change because of the listing, Kovacs said in an interview. But the panel was still discussing what measures ranchers could take to ward off wolves before the listing decision was made, she said.
“We really looked to get a broad, diverse group of stakeholders to work collaboratively in this process,” she said. “I’d hate to see one or more stakeholders walk away when we’re so close … It doesn’t mean that we should stop, particularly with all that we’ve invested so far.”
The farm groups say there’s little left to discuss. The commission’s vote put the listing into law, although the panel must ratify it at its next meeting in August and go through a several-month process to have the decision written into the state’s code, according to Hughan.
The California Endangered Species Act prohibits “take” of a listed species, which means that no person may “hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill” a gray wolf in California, the CCA explained in a memo to its members. Under this definition of “take,” even a rancher scaring a wolf away from cattle on an ATV may constitute an illegal “pursuit”, the CCA asserts.
“I’m hoping there are still opportunities to figure out how livestock producers can protect their cattle, sheep, goats and horses from wolves,” Cremers said, “because under CESA there’s a prohibition of take, and there’s not an allowance for protection of livestock.”
The state’s endangered-species law allows for incidental take, Cremers said, but that would expose a rancher to lawsuits by environmental groups.
Cremers said she has proposed that members of the working group ask the Legislature to change the law to allow for the take of a predator attacking livestock. “I think this adds more need to that discussion,” she said.
Kovacs said the task force might be open to new legislation, noting that Oregon’s endangered-species law includes certain allowances for take that California’s doesn’t.
The groups may also consider legal challenges, Cremers and Hansen said. Farm Bureau and CCA officials have argued the commission can’t legally list a species that isn’t present in the state — an opinion that commission Chairman Michael Sutton soundly rejected at the meeting in Fortuna, Calif.
“It’s just really unfortunate that the commission ignored the department’s recommendation and based the decision much more on emotion,” Cremers said.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf page: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/wolf/
California Fish and Game Commission: http://www.fgc.ca.gov
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://cfbf.com
California Cattlemen’s Association: http://www.calcattlemen.org