Four ranches and a new nonprofit have been awarded a total of $276,000 in state funds to protect cattle in Washington’s wolf country with range riders and fences.
Meanwhile, a proposal by the Cattle Producers of Washington, whose members include ranchers most affected by wolves, has been denied funding.
The cattlemen proposed collaborating with state and local officials to collar more wolves, more closely monitor packs and more efficiently haze predators. Two sheriffs and county commissioners in all four northeast Washington counties endorsed the plan.
The application, however, was opposed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“I think we put together a real good (proposal),” Cattle Producers President Scott Nielsen said. “Ours had the support of the local community. I think it was a real missed opportunity.”
The state Department of Agriculture will distribute the grants based on the recommendations of a four-member panel representing conservation districts in Ferry, Okanogan, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.
Fish and Wildlife already spends about $400,000 year to help ranchers pay for non-lethal measures to guard livestock from wolves. The Legislature last year created a separate program under the agriculture department for a “community-based approach” to protecting livestock. Lawmakers appropriated $300,000. The agriculture department will keep $24,000 to administer the grants.
The largest grant, $185,493, was awarded to the new Northeast Washington Wolf-Cattle Collaborative. The nonprofit plans to employ four or five range riders to help ranchers head off depredations. “We’re taking no pay whatsoever,” one of the nonprofit’s directors, Ferry County rancher Arron Scotten, said. “We want every dime to go back into the community.”
The other four grants will go to individual operations for fences or additional human presence around wolves. The recipients are: Okanogan County rancher Craig Boesel, $40,265; Stevens County rancher John Dawson, $20,000; Ferry County ranchers Bryan and Deb Gotham, $19,000; and Okanogan County rancher Vic Stokes, $11,242.
“There’s going to be a lot of accountability,” said Dave Hedrick, a Ferry County Conservation District commissioner. “We’re going to keep close track of how they spend the money, whether there’s success or failure.”
With its application, the Cattle Producers submitted endorsement letters from county commissioners and Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen and Ferry County Sheriff Ray McCumber. The officials said counties would contribute money to the effort and vouched that the goal would be to increase non-lethal control of wolves.
“On behalf of Stevens County, we pledge to you that the commissioners will stay involved and create a success story,” wrote Steve Parker, county board chairman.
In written comments submitted to the department of agriculture, WDFW questioned whether the grants could be spent on a program that involved the sheriff’s offices. WDFW also said the cattlemen’s proposal wasn’t in line with lawmakers’ direction to use the money for community-based non-lethal measures. WDFW did not have objections to funding the nonprofit group or individual ranches.
WDFW also recommended against funding a proposal by Western Wildlife Outreach, a conservation group, that emphasized distributing fladry and lights. Efforts to obtain further comment from WDFW were unsuccessful.
Hedrick said WDFW’s comments and the legislation that set up the grant program influenced the panel.
“All the stuff in (the Cattle Producers’) proposal are good ideas, but to try to fit them in (the legislation) — we couldn’t get there,” he said. “The things we funded all involved getting stuff on the ground.
“There’s some blow-back on the decision, but that’s OK,” Hedrick said. “I knew it was going to be tough.”
Nielsen said the Cattle Producers’ proposal was truly community-based. “To me, our proposal fit that to a ‘T,’” he said.
Stokes said he will use the grant to put up a fence around a calving area. He said wolves have not attacked his cattle, but at least one known pack is one in the area. Stokes is in north-central Washington, where wolves are federally protected. If wolves get in his cattle, lethal control is not an option.
“I’m trying to get a little bit ahead of the curve,” he said.