By MATTHEW WEAVER
SPOKANE -- Ranchers and critics alike say they mostly agree with a new rule permitting Eastern Washington livestock or pet owners to kill a wolf that is attacking their animals.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission directed the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to put the emergency rule into effect last week.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Len McIrvin, a rancher in Laurier, Wash. His Diamond M Ranch was a hub of wolf depredation last year. Wolves killed or injured at least 17 animals. As a result, the state killed six wolves in the Wedge Pack in September 2012.
But McIrvin said he never saw one wolf in the act of killing an animal.
"Mostly you don't see any activity, you just find the dead cattle," he said.
Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, said the rule gives landowners and livestock producers a tool to protect their property.
Field expects the rule to be in place through January, but said legislators will have to address the rule in the next legislative session.
"The issues of wolf recovery and the problems associated with them don't go away with the adoption of the rule," Field said, citing his concerns about unrealistic wolf recovery goals and the effect on ungulate populations.
Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, said the rule in general was the correct way to go. His organization advocated for some version of a caught-in-the-act provision, he said.
Friedman doesn't foresee a measurable impact on wolf populations unless the rule is abused.
"By allowing people to feel more sense of control and avoiding the horror of watching your own animals get killed, it may help build social tolerance, which is essential," he said.
However, Friedman said the rule was "a bit broader" than he'd like.
"I wish it was more specific to the geography of northeast Washington and a clearer definition of an attack situation," he said.
The association will continue to focus on conflict avoidance and finding methods to allow wolves, agriculture and communities to co-exist. This summer Friedman expects to fund three range rider efforts.
"Wolves are new, and it's disorienting, maybe confusing at first," he said. "But there will come a time when wolves aren't new anymore. Between now and then, we have to figure out how to make things work."