It's time for wildlife managers, environmentalists and ranchers to sit down and come up with a realistic plan for managing Washington state's burgeoning wolf population.
When the state's management plan was written, it relied on what many people hoped would happen: That wolves would not kill significant numbers of cattle. Now that reality has asserted itself and wolves near the Canadian border have taken a liking to Washington state beef, it's appropriate for the discussion to go beyond what managers wanted to happen and instead focus on what is happening.
It is critical that the environmental community be involved in these discussions. Most of the wolves in Washington appear to be from British Columbia and unrelated to the wolves that were initially reintroduced in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. As such, they are not endangered. They are only expanding their range because the wolf population in Canada is so dense.
For environmentalists to argue that wolves are rare creatures in need of protection when in fact they are spilling into Washington from Canada is not an accurate reflection of reality. In addition, it is clear that some wolf advocates are intent on blaming ranchers for any and all problems relating to wolves.
No one wants Washington's wolf problem addressed more than ranchers. They have gone the extra mile to avoid situations in which wolves kill cattle. For anyone to blame ranchers -- many of whom have been in the area for decades -- for problems with wolves demonstrates a disconnect from reality.
The outcry from a legislator and others over the state's decision to kill most of the Wedge Wolf Pack demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding about the situation along the Canadian border. An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 wolves live in British Columbia alone. Wolves cost British Columbia cattlemen an estimated $8 million to $10 million a year, according to the general manager of the British Columbia Cattlemen's Association, who describes the problem as "almost an epidemic." Wildlife managers in Canada estimate that 50,000 to 60,000 wolves live there.
Managing a robust -- and growing -- population of wolves is significantly different from managing a tiny, isolated population trying to rebuild itself.
Clearly, Washington wildlife managers have a problem on their hands, one that is significantly different from that anticipated in the state's wolf plan.
Working together, instead of yelling across the battle lines, and understanding the reality of the wolf problem will help all sides to reach an agreement that will benefit every party, including the wolves.