LYNNWOOD, Wash. — The east-west divide over how Washington should manage conflicts between ranchers and the state’s growing population of wolves was apparent Tuesday at a meeting in this Seattle suburb.
Speaker after speaker told state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials that game managers shouldn’t have OK’d the shooting of a wolf in August to deter a pack from preying on sheep in Stevens County in northeast Washington.
A week ago at the Stevens County Fairground in Colville, game officials were accused of being slow to stop livestock predation. At the Lynnwood Convention Center, they were charged with being quick to kill wolves at the bidding of ranchers.
Denise Joines, representing a Seattle-based philanthropic conservation group, the Wilderforce Foundation, said the economic contribution of “wildlife watchers” dwarfs that of ranchers who graze their animals on public lands.
“The Department of Fish and Wildlife should focus on serving the interests, both recreational and economic, of the majority of our state’s citizens, not a small extractive industry,” she said.
A sharpshooter from a helicopter killed a breeding female in the Huckleberry Pack on Aug. 23. The department called the Lynnwood and Colville meetings to give residents a chance to vent.
Ania Pastuszewska, of Seattle, called the wolf a symbol of the American West and the August shooting “plain lazy” and an act of “cowardice.”
Hank Seipp said he drove across the state from his home in Spokane because he didn’t have a chance to speak in Colville.
He held prepared remarks laying out his belief that non-lethal means can deter attacks on livestock. Instead of referring to his paper, he turned to look at three department officials and spoke through clenched teeth.
“We, you, have to do better,” he said.
Afterward, Seipp said he was surprised by his vehemence. “My emotions got the better of me over this subject,” he said.
About 100 people came to the Lynnwood meeting and heard the department’s assistant director, Nate Pamplin, defend the shooting.
He said the Huckleberry Pack had killed 34 sheep grazing in rugged terrain. He said non-lethal efforts to protect the sheep, including patrols by state employees around the flock, didn’t stop wolves from killing and injuring livestock.
The state spent an estimated $53,000 in first tying to protect the flock and then in shooting one wolf.
Many in the audience accused game managers of failing to do enough before resorting to lethal action. The same managers were criticized in Colville for allegedly failing to take action against the wolves.
Tricia M. Cook, of Glacier, said a rancher at the Colville meeting slipped her an unfriendly note accusing her of being a “wolf lover.”
“I’ll take that accusation as a compliment,” she said.
In Lynnwood, south King County resident Bill McCorkle stood out when he applauded the shooting of the wolf.
“These guys are just trying to make a living. They are American farmers,” McCorkle said. “I’m not a wolf-hater. I don’t want to see them all dead. I just don’t want things to get out of hand.”
Washington lists the wolf on the state’s endangered species list. Game officials estimate there are 52 wolves in the state, mostly in northeast Washington.
Game officials say the population is growing rapidly and spreading. They anticipate the wolf population will recovery as soon as 2021.
“Wolves in Washington are here to stay,” Pamplin said to applause.
The department’s carnivore manager, Donny Martorello, said conflicts between wolves and livestock likely will increase.
The Huckleberry Pack caused the department the most trouble last summer.
In Ferry County, the Profanity Pack killed a cow and calf. “This is a pack we’ll have to closely monitor next year,” Pamplin said. “This will be a challenging area for 2015.”