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Washington considers wolf petition

Matthew Weaver
Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering a petition given in June by eight conservation groups asking the state to codify requirements for non-lethal efforts.

Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has until early August to respond to eight conservation groups’ request to require ranchers to take nonlethal efforts to protect their livestock from wolves before they can be compensated or wolves are killed for depredation.

Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the groups want the state to establish the expectation of nonlethal tools to prevent wolf-livestock conflicts.

The rules would specify the conditions the agency could consider killing wolves in response to chronic depredation of livestock.

The petition proposes that ranchers must properly employ appropriate non-lethal conflict prevention methods for “a meaningful period of time” before requesting compensation or a depredation would count towards killing wolves that are preying on livestock.

Under the proposal, a wolf could be killed if:

• there were four separate incidents of confirmed wolf depredations on four separate days within a four-month time span that resulted in dead livestock

• non-lethal measures are in place but failed to prevent livestock deaths

• the agency finds that depredations are likely to continue and there’s no evidence of intentional feeding or “unnatural attraction” of wolves, Weiss said.

Use of non-lethal techniques would be documented by the department, Weiss said.

“It’s still a voluntary program, it’s just that if you want to qualify for compensation, if there’s any potential for a wolf kill to count against that wolf for potential lethal control, you have to have been participating,” Weiss said.

The state wolf committee can deny or accept the petition, or explain they’ll approach the issue in a different way, game division manager Dave Ware said.

“We tried to give ourselves a little more flexibility than what is being requested at this time from the petitioners,” he said.

If depredations occur, non-lethal efforts would have to be ramped up before killing problem wolves, Weiss said.

“Preventing scenarios that could make livestock more vulnerable to wolves and could draw wolves in has to be the first step,” she said.

Ranchers and the department would need to determine which methods work best for an individual operation, Weiss said. New tools, including “biofencing,” or use of wolf urine to mark fence lines and ward off wolves, are constantly being explored, she said.

“The human mind is limitless in what we can come up with over time to learn how to co-exist and share the landscape,” she said.

Ware said there have been several investigations into depredations in recent months, but none have turned out to be wolves.

The agency is talking with petitioners and livestock industry members about how to move ahead, Ware said.

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