By MATTHEW WEAVER
Cattle ranchers in Eastern Washington want to see the burden of wolf preservation shift to the state and not to livestock operations.
The Stevens County Cattlemen's Association (SCAA) has released a checklist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife that corresponds to a proposed checklist by the department for ranchers.
The department's possible options include waiting until calves reach 200 pounds before they are turned out or delaying turnout until June, which the SCCA says increases maintenance costs for ranchers.
"It's asking ranchers to do things that are very difficult, if not impossible, for a majority of operations," association media relations and communications coordinator Jamie Henneman said. "It places a disproportionate burden on the rancher to address the problems that will be caused by wolves."
Henneman said the association is calling for a change in perspective, stating that if the department wants to see wolves recover, its job is to address the impacts the animal may cause.
"Instead of telling the public, 'We would like you to solve the issues and challenges that will come up from our animals,' it's their job to be mitigating these challenges and problems," Henneman said.
The association's checklist for the department includes sharing data and alerting the public to wolf tracks, scat or sightings; working with county law enforcement to investigate injured livestock or fatalities; and relocating or killing wolves adversely impacting livestock.
Henneman said ranchers want more communication, transparency and visibility from the department.
"We want to see the department responding to any and all wolf-related complaints," she said.
That includes proactive management, since only the state has the ability to kill problem wolves.
"You can't ask the landowner to do all these things to keep wolves away and then remove his ability to address the situation when it becomes dire," Henneman said.
The idea behind the department's checklist is to start conversations with producers, said Dave Ware, game division manager for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"Whether they can accommodate everything or anything that's on there is really up to them," he said.
Ware said he understands the SCCA's point of view, and the importance of communicating with ranchers.
"It was only fair they challenge the department back about, 'What are you doing?'" he said.
The association is focusing on data and finances. Henneman is concerned the department doesn't have information about the wolf's impact on ungulate populations and current predator populations. She strongly encourages the state to dedicate funds in the next budget cycle to collect more data.
"This is the agency's animal, basically," Henneman said. "We want to see them focused on the animal, not how to change human behavior to accommodate the animal."
Ware said the department has been working with stakeholder groups, including the Washington Cattlemen's Association, Cattle Producers of Washington and Conservation Northwest, a pro-wolf group.