Washington wildlife managers have canceled for now a plan to withhold the exact locations of radio-collared wolves from ranchers.
Fish and Wildlife had planned to switch off the GPS data this week in favor of a new system that more generally shows wolfpack movements. The department’s new director, Kelly Susewind, said he heard from producers concerned about the change, especially during summer grazing when livestock are most exposed to wolf attacks.
“We pretty quickly came to the consensus that this is not ready for prime time,” Susewind told the Fish and Wildlife Commission at a meeting Friday in Olympia. “We heard loud and clear — don’t be switching things up in the middle of a grazing season.”
Fish and Wildlife shares collar data with ranchers who agree to keep the information confidential. A month ago, the department introduced a system that quickly became known as the “blue blob.” The department said the new method of depicting pack movements will be more useful than knowing the recent locations of wolves with collars. The department also said GPS coordinates could be misused to track wolves to dens in the spring and where pups are later stashed for the summer.
The department planned to stop sharing GPS coordinates Aug. 14. Susewind said it was the top issue when he went to northeast Washington and met with producers, county commissioners and state lawmakers.
“We had long talks about wolves, and it was absolutely universal, every single person we talked to, this was their biggest concern, the switch in data-sharing,” he said.
The department still believes the blue blob can help ranchers, he said. The department will review its data-sharing policy over the winter.
“We recognize we need to work with people. We need to make sure they understand it, and we need to make sure we’ve adjusted it so it works for everybody,” Susewind said.
The introduction of the blue blob on July 16 was another friction point between ranchers and wildlife managers. The department had planned to continue sharing the collar data for only 30 more days while ranchers learned the new system.
Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen said he was pleased Susewind, barely a week on the job, reversed the department’s course.
“I think that was a very good sign,” Nielsen said. “All it was doing was limiting the information, and the notion of limiting information on this issue was incredibly misguided.”
The Fish and Wildlife Commission agreed with Susewind. Earlier in the meeting, Stevens County rancher Jeff Dawson told the commission that collar data was “probably the most important tool for dealing with wolves.”
“We’re not out there to track the wolves, but we are out there to try to manage where the cattle are (in relation) to the wolves,” he said.
The GPS coordinates are better than the new system for minimizing conflicts, Dawson said.
“The original information is what’s working the best for us,” he said. “What was added, maybe in the department’s mind was to make it better, but it’s not making it better.”