Ranchers slam state for lack of wolf data
By MATTHEW WEAVER
The Stevens County Cattlemen's Association is accusing state wildlife officials of creating wolf policy based on social pressure, not science.
The association submitted public records requests to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife seeking specific data related to wolves. It asked for the current predator population, anticipated prey needs for the eight wolf packs in Eastern Washington and scientific studies on predator-prey relationships.
"The responses we received show that WDFW has no information on the number of prey animals available for the wolves, they have limited information about the wolf population and have no ability to predict how wolves will affect local communities," association president Scott Nielsen said in a press release.
The organization declined to comment further. In the press release, Nielsen said the absence of data is "disturbing," and called for proactive wolf management.
Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, which supports wolves, said there can never be enough information, but the department has the best data available.
"These same guys last year seemed to complain about how hard it is to keep track of their own cattle in the back country," he said of the cattlemen. "Now they expect the state to know where every wolf and deer is?"
Dave Ware, game division manager for the department, said there are plans to get more information. Universities are interested in conducting research on wolves and their prey, he said, noting the state started a white-tailed deer study last year. Moose and elk surveys are also expanding.
The department presented its information to the group at a meeting in Colville, Wash., in December.
"If that's their assessment of what we've got, then that's their opinion," Ware said.
The association in early December formally requested that the wolf be delisted as an endangered species in Eastern Washington.
Ware said the department will formally respond to the petition, and declined to comment further.
WDFW holds public meetings about wolf recovery in Spokane, Seattle and Olympia the week of Jan. 14 and is scheduling a series of meetings to discuss wolf and livestock issues with landowners and prey issues with hunters before the field season begins in the spring.
"We recognize it's really important to get out there, especially this early in wolf recovery," Ware said.
Stevens County Cattlemen: http://stevenscountycattlemen.wordpress.com/
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/
Conservation Northwest: www.conservationnw.org