If wolves drive cattle off public land, attacks on livestock will merely shift to private land, a cattlemen’s group told the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday, criticizing a plan put forward by the department’s staff.
A proposal to yield grazing allotments to wolves would set a dangerous precedent for other state and federal agencies, said Beau Henneman of the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association.
“Simply removing livestock grazing from WDFW lands will not stop livestock depredations,” he said. “Unmanaged predator issues on public land quickly become private property problems.”
Fish and Wildlife is considering revising its grazing policies to nurture the state’s growing wolf population. The department has 50 grazing allotments and about 40% are in wolf territories, according to the department.
As proposed, the department could order ranchers off allotments if wolves are discovered active within a mile. The department says it would try, but couldn’t guarantee, finding ranchers another pasture.
The lethal-removal policy that Fish and Wildlife applies to federal and private property would not apply to its own land. Some allotments may be closed because of wolves, according to the department’s proposal.
Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind said the department supports grazing, but its mission is to recover state endangered species.
If livestock and wolves are at loggerheads, “we’re going to have to defer to protecting wolves,” he said.
In northeast Washington, wolves are not federally protected and have surpassed state recovery goals. Wolves remain a state endangered species because there aren’t enough in Central and Western Washington.
Stevens County ranchers have sustained most of the wolf attacks on livestock, Henneman said.
“The taxpayers of Washington should not be funding an agency that intends to acquire land simply to turn it into a predator haven or wildlife preserves,” he said.
Environmental groups criticized the department for allowing grazing at all.
The world already has more than enough livestock grazing and it should be severely curtailed to make room for fish, wildlife and plants, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
The center dismissed the department’s promise to hold ranchers to a higher standard for preventing wolf attacks as meaningless because the standards elsewhere are so low.
Wolves should be managed “as protectively as possible” to allow them to safely disperse farther west, according to the center.
The commission did not act on the grazing policy. Its next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 20.
Fish and Wildlife manages more than 1 million acres and regularly acquires more land, including large chunks of rangeland in Eastern Washington.
Wolves will follow cattle onto private land if public are set aside from grazing. A cattlemen’s group warned Friday that Washington Fish and Wildlife would set a dangerous precedent.