By MATTHEW WEAVER
SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. -- Washington state's top carnivore manager says he probably should have put a helicopter into the air much sooner to kill a problem wolf pack.
That was one of the lessons Donny Martorello, the carnivore section manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, learned from the state's handling of the Wedge Wolf pack, which had been killing cattle from the Diamond M Ranch in Laurier, Wash.
"That was a failure for us," Martorello said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Rocky Mountain wolf coordinator Mike Jiminez said 80 percent of wolves don't cause a problem. But he stressed the need to deal quickly with the 20 percent that attack livestock.
Jiminez called for a balance between tolerance of wolves and for lethal control methods.
"You have to have tolerance of wolves in order for wolves to survive," Jiminez said. However, "some wolves will always kill some livestock, and those conflicts have to be addressed efficiently and effectively."
The wolf experts spoke before roughly 300 attendees at a state Department of Fish and Wildlife public meeting Jan. 16. Other meetings are set for Seattle and Olympia.
They estimated that between 51 and 101 wolves are now in the state, with eight confirmed and three suspected packs, Martorello said. He called the population growth "unprecedented, phenomenal" and comparable to wolf recovery efforts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf specialist Carter Niemeyer covered the pros and cons of nonlethal methods, like removing of bone piles, placing flags and range riders, but cautioned that there are no pat solutions to handling predation.
"I don't know of any non-lethal method that works all the time," he said.
Wolf supporters and opponents have voiced support for relocation, which Niemeyer said is an option for surplus wolves, before there's a problem.
"If a wolf starts killing sheep or cattle and that behavior is established, that's a bad animal to move to another part of the state," he said. "Once they learn that behavior of killing livestock, I don't see many things you can do to stop (it) once it starts."
Niemeyer also spoke of the need to support ranchers and share their expenses in handling wolves.
"If you want wolves on the landscape, there needs to be ways to fund the protection of livestock to minimize the impact on people," Niemeyer said.
Most ranchers don't want the money, he said.
"I don't think compensation necessarily buys goodwill," he said.
Martorello said there will be additional meetings to focus on livestock issues in northeastern Washington in January and February.
The department is also working to make public a website to keep track of every wolf alert call it receives.
Martorello said the department is working with a livestock subcommittee to establish compensation for the indirect effects of wolves on livestock, such as weight loss by livestock that wolves harass or animals that are not recovered.