SACRAMENTO — Though it is somewhat in disarray after the listing of the gray wolf as endangered in California, a panel planning for the wolf’s arrival is still intact and its members vow to complete their work.
California Farm Bureau Federation and California Cattlemen’s Association leaders decided to stay involved with the wolf management plan even though they believe the wolf’s listing takes away many options that were being discussed for protecting livestock.
CCA members wanted to remain in the working group “partly to make sure our voice is still there on behalf of cattle ranchers to the Department of Fish and Wildlife,” said Kirk Wilbur, the organization’s director of government relations.
Noelle Cremers, the CFBF’s natural resources and commodities director, said she’s known since she joined the more than two-year-old task force that there was a chance the wolf could be given protections under the California Endangered Species Act.
“If we walked away right now, we’d be in an even worse position in terms of what we could do to protect livestock,” Cremers said.
“I have always believed that what is best for livestock producers is also better for wolves, so if livestock producers have a broad set of tools at their disposal to protect their livestock, that will help train wolves to stay away from livestock,” she said. “They are better off in wilderness areas where they’ll have no interaction with human activities.”
The Farm Bureau and CCA considered walking away from the working group 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.
Fish and Wildlife officials urged commissioners to await the final plan from the 22-member working group, which includes representatives from agriculture as well as environmental and sportsmen’s organizations. The committee was negotiating over how to manage distribution of wolves and minimize wolf-livestock losses, state officials have said.
None of the participants have left the panel, DFW wildlife program manager Karen Kovacs said. But the listing has left the panel’s mission unclear, she said.
“We’re still struggling internally with the listing, with what it means relative to the completion of the wolf plan,” Kovacs said. “We haven’t fully grasped what the listing does and doesn’t preclude us to do, but we’re still … meeting with the working group to complete the plan.”
A key issue could be whether the committee will back legislation to change or clarify the state Endangered Species Act to give ranchers more leeway to protect their animals.
Farm groups note that the law prohibits “take” of a listed species, which means that no person may “hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill” a gray wolf in California. Under this definition of “take,” even a rancher scaring a wolf away from cattle on an ATV may constitute an illegal “pursuit,” the groups argue.
But the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned for the wolf’s listing and is part of the working group, would oppose any changes in the law, said Amaroq Weiss, the center’s West Coast wolf organizer. She said the panel could seek different legal opinions to form consensus on the definition of “take”.
Kovacs said the question of supporting legislation may be left up to individual groups.
“It’s hard to say” whether the committee would formally back a bill, she said. “Really that’s a question for the stakeholder members.”
California Department of Fish and Wildlife: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://cfbf.com
California Cattlemen’s Association: http://www.calcattlemen.org
Center for Biological Diversity: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org