ELLENSBURG, Wash. — The Cattle Producers of Washington has withdrawn from the state’s Wolf Advisory Group, calling it “inept and pointless” and saying it has prevented any action by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in dealing with wolves that kill livestock.
The department should abolish the advisory group — known by the acronym WAG — courageously take on wolf management that’s fair to communities impacted by wolves and should not “stand idle as livestock operations that are vital to rural communities perish under inadequate public policy,” said Monte McPeak, CPoW president, in a letter dated Sept. 10 that was sent to the Fish and Wildlife Commission and department director Jim Unsworth.
“WAG has consistently prevented any real action by WDFW, creating dire circumstances for the ranch families and communities that have been negatively impacted” by wolves, McPeak wrote. Continuing to participate in WAG would work in opposition to CPoW’s mission of sustaining, improving and protecting the state’s cattle industry, he wrote.
WAG meetings often consist of theoretical discussions while ignoring data and wolf management tools in other states, he said in the letter. WDFW uses WAG to delay action as it waits for “some kind of unattainable consensus from WAG,” and WAG refuses to seriously discuss lethal removal, he wrote.
A majority of WAG members always want one more depredation before removing wolves and CPoW has no desire to work with a facilitator who closes WAG meetings to the public, creating “a secret and obscure environment to discuss an issue of high public importance,” McPeak wrote.
WDFW spent $76,000 to remove the Wedge wolf pack in 2012 but is spending $850,000 on the WAG facilitator for two years, the letter says.
In two days of WAG meetings in Ellensburg, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, there was no direct public mention of CPoW’s withdrawal. WAG facilitator, Francine Madden, said she alluded to it but not by name.
“I want us to be respectful of that (CPoW’s) decision but remain open to engagement,” she said later. “If there is any way we can be supportive of their community, then I would do that. The door is open to re-engagement at any time and in any form.”
She said the $850,000 for two years goes to her nonprofit organization, Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration in Washington, D.C., and not directly to her. She said she had seen CPoW’s letter but had no comment on it.
Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf policy coordinator, said it’s unfortunate CPoW dropped out, that he valued the organization as a stakeholder and appreciates its reasons.
“We’re not delaying any management action based on WAG,” Martorello said. “WAG is looking for cohesion on controversial parts of our protocol but that doesn’t pause any management of wolves.”
Jack Field, executive vice president of Washington Cattlemen’s Association who is on WAG and has expressed frustration with its slowness, said he respects CPoW’s decision but that his board decided to stay at the table.
“I’m glad we did because yesterday afternoon (Oct. 1), we finally “quit writing conceptual thoughts on butcher paper and went line-by-line through a checklist of non-lethal actions. That was huge. If we come into the next meeting with the same focus we will do a lot of good things,” Field said.
Madden said she intends to get the group to agree on a checklist for standing behind lethal action when needed. Paula Swedeen, carnivore policy lead in Olympia for Conservation Northwest, said she’s willing to do that.
Shawn Cantrell, director of Defenders of Wildlife in Seattle, said it’s hard to trust ranchers who won’t sign cooperative wolf management agreements with WDFW. Swedeen agreed regarding public land.
The department has an obligation to protect ranchers who don’t sign agreements, said Jay Shepherd, of WDFW.
“I would guess there are people in here on WAG who don’t want any lethal measures taken. They may accommodate it at the extreme, but fundamentally they don’t want to see any wolf killed and others in the room who want to see all the wolves back out of Washington,” said Dan McKinley, regional director of the Mule Deer Foundation, of Spangle, Wash.
The group worked through a WDFW checklist of livestock-wolf mitigation measures, bouncing questions off its member Nick Martinez, of Washington State Sheep Producers and a Moxee sheep rancher, to tailor a possible plan toward him. They covered handling mortality, treatment of sick or injured livestock, sheep turnout and wolf hazing.
Swedeen and others pushed for greater human presence — range riders and sheepherders — as a deterrent to wolves early on in any potential conflicts.
Martinez said an understanding is needed so WAG isn’t always pushing for one more thing before wolves can be killed.
“I hope we get to a definition on range rider. Right now if you talked to five producers and five conservationists, you could get 10 answers,” Field said. “There’s a lot of variability in handling mortality. It was beneficial for conservation folks to hear that.”
The group talked about coming up with generic plans for sheep and cattle and specific plans for Martinez and Dave Dashiell, a Hunter rancher who lost 300 sheep to wolves, and was the CPoW member of WAG.