Cattlemen leery of increasing wolf population
Ranchers point out dangers of state's plan, say they aren't being heard
By DAN WHEAT
CLE ELUM, Wash. -- Washington cattlemen say it seems inherently unfair that people whose livelihoods are not affected by wolves can push the government toward accommodating them.
"It's easy to sit in an apartment in Bellevue and say we need wolves and see no impact until you go to the market and can't buy beef anymore," Dal Dagnon, an Okanogan rancher, told the state's point person on wolves.
Harriet Allen, endangered species manager of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, gave an update on the state's upcoming wolf management plan at the 85th annual convention of the Washington cattlemen's and cattlewomen's associations at Suncadia Resort on Nov. 11.
Allen said she wants a plan that balances all interests and that she's not for one side more than the other.
But Sam Ledgerwood, a Clarkston rancher, said he doesn't think the department is listening to cattlemen and he's concerned for the safety of his family and his cattle.
"My daughter goes riding with our dogs, and if they're attacked by wolves and it spooks the horse she could be hurt," he said.
"If 40 percent of your salary disappeared because of wolves, would you think differently?" Dagnon asked Allen.
"I'm sure I would," she replied.
Dagnon accused the department of listening more to wolf supporters than ranchers and using ranchers on the department's wolf working group as pawns.
Allen said there was good give and take from both sides during difficult negotiations on the plan.
Stakeholders have been drafting the plan since 2007. The department is addressing public comment it received during the summer and plans to present a final product to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission next August.
The plan so far allows for moving wolves within the state if they become too much of a problem to livestock in a given area. It allows killing wolves to protect livestock only after the gray wolf population is recovered in the state and is no longer listed as an endangered species. The plan and legislation passed last year calls for compensating ranchers for livestock lost to wolves, but only has $30,000 in the fund.
Two known packs live in the state, one in the Okanogan and the other in Pend Oreille County, Allen said. Others are suspected in the far northeast and southeast corners of the state, she said.
"We're setting ourselves up for a major catastrophe, we only have to look at Idaho," said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association. Idaho had 10 breeding pairs of wolves, it now has more than 1,000 wolves and there's livestock loss, he said.
He asked Allen for a population viability analysis to prove whether Washington has enough wildlife to support hunters and the 15 breeding pairs of wolves proposed in the plan.
Elizabeth Howard, a Portland attorney who has represented Oregon ranchers in wolf litigation, said whether ranchers have a constitutional right to kill wolves to protect their livestock is not known.
"No one has squarely taken that issue on," she said.