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WDFW rolls out wolf-tracking ‘blue blob’

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says new format will better track wolves.
Don Jenkins

Capital Press

Published on July 17, 2018 10:16AM

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife puts radio collars on wolves to track pack movements. Beginning Aug. 15, the department will no longer share the raw data and instead will provide a more general picture of wolf activities.

Don Jenkins/Capital Press

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife puts radio collars on wolves to track pack movements. Beginning Aug. 15, the department will no longer share the raw data and instead will provide a more general picture of wolf activities.

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Washington wildlife managers rolled out Monday the “blue blob,” the new way the Department of Fish and Wildlife will show ranchers where they can expect their cattle to mix with wolves.

Shades of blue estimating the intensity of wolf activities will replace GPS coordinates that pinpoint the recent location of wolves fitted with radio collars. Fish and Wildlife officials say the new format will better illustrate the habits of entire packs, not just collared wolves.

“We don’t think producers are losing any capacity,” the department’s wolf policy coordinator, Donny Martorello, said. “But there’s a nervousness from producers because the point data is all they’ve ever used.”

The department shares confidential wolf collar data with ranchers, range-riders and counties. The department says the information has been misused, though it has not provided specifics.

The department will continue sharing GPS coordinates for 30 days, while ranchers and others learn to use a format based on a method of estimating the distribution of a variable — in this case wolves.

After Aug. 14, ranchers will no longer receive the longitude and latitude of collared wolves. The lag time can range from an hour to days, depending on the type of collar and position of satellites.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Okanogan County, said the department should wait to see how the blue blob works before withholding the raw GPS data.

“Until producers, range-riders and sheriffs convince me the system is completely functional, and they’re comfortable with it, I will push for the department to keep sharing the point data,” he said.

The blue blob debuts in mid-grazing season and one day after the department resumed sharing collar data. Between June 1 and July 15, the department blacked out GPS coordinates to conceal the location of dens.

Stevens County officials were in front of computer screens Monday morning trying to navigate through the blue blob’s layers, menus, submenus and shades of color to decipher where wolves are gathering.

“They didn’t send any instructions with this. It’s like, ‘Here’s all the data, you figure out how to do it,’”

Commissioner Don Dashiell said.

“We’re going to get smarter, and I’m not going to throw the department under the bus because there is a lot of information. We’ll just grind on,” he said. “It’s really helpful if you have a 64-inch TV screen to put it on.”

Ferry County rancher Arron Scotten, who has a contract to provide range-riders to Fish and Wildlife, said the blue blob will be a setback for ranchers if it slows down finding livestock that have been killed by wolves.

“If by the time you locate something and you find only a pile of bones, you won’t have a confirmed depredation, and you won’t have compensation,” he said.

Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen said the blob may be useful, but Fish and Wildlife shouldn’t suppress the latest GPS coordinates of collared wolves.

“We will resist that,” he said. “For range-riders, you need the most current data to be effective.”

Fish and Wildlife briefed the department’s Wolf Advisory Group on the blue blob last week. Defenders of Wildlife representative Shawn Cantrell said Monday the department should keep an open mind about continuing to share the raw data.

“I’m hopeful the department will be open to listening if any producer or set of producers says at the end of the 30-day window, ‘Here’s what the point data is telling me that I’m not getting with the blob’”



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