By MATTHEW WEAVER
The new president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association expects wolves and water to top the list of livestock issues in 2013.
Twisp, Wash., rancher Vic Stokes recently took over as president for the association.
He said he hears the most about wolves and water quality from ranchers when he attends county meetings around the state.
Wolves are new to Washington ranchers and their population is growing, Stokes said. In some parts of the state and the Northwest they have been aggressive predators. State wildlife managers have had to kill several wolves that were attacking cattle in Stevens County in northeastern Washington.
Cattlemen are also monitoring talks between directors of the state departments of Agriculture and Ecology and the state Conservation Commission on water and nutrient management regulation proposals for livestock operations, Stokes said.
He prefers a voluntary process for ranchers if they have water quality problems.
Agencies may offer cost-share funding, but it can still be costly for an individual rancher, even with a 75-25 percent split and an agency paying the bulk of the bill.
"That 25 percent can be pretty expensive when you get engineers and folks involved that drive the costs up," Stokes said.
He also pointed to Ecology's recent appearance before the state supreme court, arguing that Dayton, Wash., rancher Joe Lemire represents a "substantial potential" to pollute a seasonal creek near his cattle operation.
"We're real concerned with that language and how it can be real subjective for somebody to drive by, see cattle and immediately think of substantial potential to pollute," Stokes said. "It gives the agency a little too much power."
Ranchers should be working with their conservation districts on the water issue, Stokes said, noting many ranchers are on district boards.
"Our sense is the Department of Ecology is trying to make conservation districts an enforcement arm," he said. "We've always used conservation districts as voluntary programs."
Stokes raises roughly 200 head of cattle. He has a private property base, and leases land from the state departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service.
He estimates he ranches on 15,000 to 20,000 acres and said he places an emphasis on how he cares for the land and cattle while still getting a good economic return.
"It takes quite a few acres to run cattle up in this area, so we are pretty dependent on public lands to graze on," he said.
He also expects to be close to public lands issues as president of the association, dealing with agencies and mandates to manage wildlife habitat for endangered species.