Ranker: 'Destroying the entire pack indicates a serious failure by the agency'
By MATTHEW WEAVER
A state senator from Orcas Island says wildlife managers should have taken more steps before killing members of a wolf pack that was preying on cattle in northeastern Washington.
Sen. Kevin Ranker said he is not an expert in wildlife management and is still "trying to sort out the details" of what happened with the Wedge Wolf Pack.
State Department of Fish and Wildlife marksmen killed seven wolves in the pack because they were preying on cattle on the Diamond M Ranch. State wildlife managers say the wolves killed 16 cattle, but the ranchers estimate about 40.
"The fact that (the department) has had to resort to destroying the entire pack indicates a serious failure by the agency to manage this situation," Ranker said in an email to the Capital Press. The Democrat is chairman of the Senate Energy, Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee.
The state's wolf plan generally calls for preventive measures to avoid depredation and allows wildlife managers to kill wolves only as a last resort.
"We need to make sure that everyone is buying into cooperative prevention efforts if they are going to be successful," Ranker said. "I am also very concerned that from day one the rancher that suffered the livestock losses in question seemed to view killing wolves as the only solution."
Nate Hair, president of the Cattle Producers of Washington, said owners of the Diamond M Ranch in Laurier, Wash., "bent over backwards" to cooperate with the state's wolf plan.
"Wolves and livestock, they don't commingle," he said. "We've never been in favor of the wolves, because at the end of the day, our paycheck's out there on the range."
Hair predicts the wolf problem will worsen.
"I find it disheartening when somebody from somewhere else tells the rancher, 'You need to bite the bullet -- we need the wolf,'" he said.
During a Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Olympia, Wash., last week, the Stevens County Cattlemen's Association and other industry members asked the state to consider delisting the wolf as an endangered species in Eastern Washington. That would give ranchers more tools to deal with the nine wolf packs in the region, according to the association.
British Columbia, which is just north of Stevens County, has an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 wolves, which are not protected by the provincial or federal governments.
Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, said producers must keep clear documentation of their voluntary cooperative management efforts.
Doing that will help convey to legislators and members of the public that all nonlethal activities are pursued before killing the wolves, he said.
Those efforts should begin with the grazing season, Field said.
Ranker is still gathering information before deciding whether to hold committee hearings or introduce legislation. He said he intends to make sure the wolf plan's ideas of prevention and nonlethal efforts are the focus of the state's strategy.