OLYMPIA — A bill urging Washington Fish and Wildlife to put radio collars on more wolves has been loosened, making electronically tracking livestock-attacking packs a priority for the department rather than a requirement.
The bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, said the measure still sends Fish and Wildlife a message: focus on collaring wolves in packs with a taste for livestock.
"The point is prioritizing the wolfpacks that have had continual problems," he said. "I was told the original language was a little blunt, so we've mellowed it out a little bit."
Kretz represents northeast Washington, a region Fish and Wildlife describes as saturated with wolfpacks. He originally proposed mandating at least one collar in every pack and two collars in packs in conflict with livestock. He said ranchers are frustrated at not having enough collar data to keep their herds away from wolves.
Fish and Wildlife said it shared Kretz's goals, but that a mandate was unrealistic. Wolves are too tough to trap to put a quota into law, according to the department.
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee amended House Bill 2906, instructing the department to try "multiple times" every year to collar one or more wolves in packs that have attacked livestock in the past three years.
The committee passed the amended version unanimously. The bill must still pass the full House before being sent to the Senate.
Currently, at least one wolf in eight of the state's 27 wolfpacks has a collar. Some collared wolves have dispersed out of state or have been killed, including by the department, to protect livestock.
Fish and Wildlife collars wolves for research, to track recovery, confirm depredations and find packs targeted for lethal removal. The department says intensive trapping can be counterproductive as wolves learn to avoid capture.
A Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said the department now supports Kretz's bill. The department already tries to put collars in packs that are in conflict with livestock, she said.
Stevens County Cattlemen's Association President Scott Nielsen said the bill still highlights how Fish and Wildlife can help ranchers in wolf territories.
"The department is always asking ranchers to do more. I like this bill because it shines a light on what the department can do," he said.
Fish and Wildlife said that the cost to put collars in every pack that has attacked livestock would multiply over time.
In a fiscal analysis of Kretz's bill, the department said it anticipates the wolf population will grow by 25% a year and that depredations will rise by the same percentage.
To keep up, the department estimated it would need another $70,000 for trapping in the coming year, $338,000 for the following two years and $716,000 for the two years after that.
Kretz said the budget request was a bill-killer. He said he will push the department to collar wolves within its current budget.
"It's a matter of setting priorities," he said. "The easiest thing to kill in Olympia is a wolf bill. A wolf bill with a big (expense) is even easier to kill."