Wolf plan 'deceitful,' cattlemen say
By DAN WHEAT
Washington's proposed wolf management plan is "deceptive and deceitful" and sets the stage for conflict with livestock producers and hunters, the head of the Washington Cattlemen's Association says.
Jack Field, association executive vice president, said he told the state Fish and Wildlife Commission that and asked commissioners to revise the plan.
As a member of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's Wolf Working Group drafting the plan for the past three years, Field said he tried to work with the department but is frustrated by a final product that lacks common sense.
Department staff could not immediately be reached for comment. They presented the plan to commissioners on Aug. 4. Public comment was allowed. Field was among 25 people, each allowed three minutes to speak.
Livestock producers and hunters need to make their opposition heard at remaining public hearings and before the commission is scheduled to act on Dec. 2 and 3, Field said the next day.
Public hearings are tentatively scheduled for Aug. 29 in Ellensburg and Oct. 6 and Nov. 3 in Olympia.
The plan protects gray wolves until their population reaches 15 breeding pair for three years. Then state delisting and limited hunting may be considered.
Early on, the department said cattle and sheep grazing land would not be counted as wolf habitat because they are not compatible, but in drafting the plan cattle acreage was counted as habitat, Field said.
Commissioner Conrad Mahnken, a retired fisheries biologist, noted that incongruity, Field said. Commissioners also asked how the department was counting 26,700 square miles of wolf habitat, virtually the same as Idaho and Montana, which have far less human population, Field said.
Commissioners questioned if 15 breeding pairs are enough to establish a viable wolf population, Field said. The plan contains no wolf cap, he said. It only says the department may consider limited hunting -- it doesn't require it -- when 15 breeding pair has been sustained for three years, he said. It would take another year to get hunting approved, he said.
A breeding pair includes 14 wolves so 15 pairs equals 210 wolves, he said. At a 24 percent growth rate the department considers acceptable there could be 500 wolves consuming 5,275 elk or 71 percent of the annual allowable elk hunter harvest by the time wolf hunting is allowed, Field said.
"The department says wolves will only kill sick and weak elk, but I don't buy that and I hope sportsmen don't either," Field said. "If wolves take more elk than the department's population objectives, then hunter harvest will have to go down."
The department had said lethal take, shooting wolves, would be a management tool, but now says it can't be used in the western two-thirds of the state where the gray wolf remains listed as a federally endangered species, Field said. So there's no way to remove wolves there that chronically depredate livestock, he said.
"That's a slap in the face to stakeholders (who worked on the plan) because it says there will be no management and cross your fingers," Field said.
The department talks about relocated problem wolves but that requires federal review, he said.
Cattlemen and hunters on the working group wrote a minority report and oppose the plan, Field said.