Lawmakers promise continued vigilance on other bills
By MATTHEW WEAVER
An Eastern Washington lawmaker's bill to relocate wolves near supporters on the west side of the state has died in committee, a cattle industry leader says.
But Washington Cattlemen's Association Executive Vice President Jack Field said the industry will remain vigilant on other proposals as they go before state House of Representatives and Senate committees.
Wauconda, Wash., Rep. Joel Kretz's bill was pulled by House leadership because it was "unfavorable," Field said. But he said the bill was the subject of much conversation on both sides of the issue.
Other bills in the state legislature include:
* House Bill 1191 relates to protecting livestock from predator attacks, requiring the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to establish rules authorizing livestock owners or managers to kill a predator.
* House Bill 1219 gives big game status to wolves and corrects livestock depredation compensations.
* House Bill 1337, another bill by Kretz, prohibits the state from designating a different level of protection than the federal government provides.
* House Bill 1500 focuses on funding mechanisms and creating an account for preventative and compensation measures.
"Any one of those House bills could pass and we could all say we did something good for the (state's) wolf plan," Field said.
Senate Bill 5300, by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, would mandate that any operator on public lands obtain a cooperative agreement with the state on handling wolves. Ranker has criticized the state Department of Fish and Wildlife for killing members of the Wedge Wolf Pack after they had preyed on livestock.
"The problem is that it totally takes the voluntary spirit of an agreement and flushes it out the window if it says you have to do this," Field said. "(Ranker) wants to see more done in terms of the livestock community and grazing on public lands to ensure we're doing everything possible non-lethally to prevent wolf impacts or mitigate conflict."
Field said bills allowing proactive lethal take of wolves are not likely to move out of committee.
Field and other industry members provided an update on the wolf impact to livestock producers at the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.
Rancher Jeff Dawson said the state paid roughly $22,000 to fund a pilot range rider program for seven months on his operation. The cost worked out to about $17.75 per head on his ranch.
Dawson said he paid about $6,000 as his share of the program.
The program increased weaning rates to the point they were before wolves started preying on his cattle, Dawson said.
Dawson said he would not be able to afford the total cost of the program.
"I don't feel the burden should fall on the livestock producer to pay that," he said.
Field said the pilot program is good because it gives the public the opportunity to share the economic burden of endangered species recovery.
"Right now you've got an undue economic hardship being felt on stakeholders directly impacted," Field said. "Everybody making a living off the land is having a direct negative impact."
Dawson encouraged farmers to maintain good documentation on everything, and maintain the paperwork with partnering agencies in case the need arises to defend it in court.
He said wolf supporters are hiring people this summer to "assess" allotments where wolves were removed to try to find other problems.
"Their assessment is going to be based on water quality, forage analysis," Dawson said. "Everything you think of in the book is going to be thrown at that assessment. It's going to be seeing if you have met the standards you are mandated to meet."