OLYMPIA — A Northeast Washington legislator, unhappy with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s efforts to separate wolves and cattle, has introduced a bill directing the department to collar more wolves with radio transmitters, especially in packs that have attacked livestock.
Rep. Joel Kretz, an Okanogan County Republican, said ranchers are committed to protecting herds with non-lethal tactics, but are handicapped by not knowing about pack movements over large territories.
He said he was particularly concerned that the department does not have a collared wolf in the Togo pack, which has preyed on cattle in northeast Washington for several years.
“To be effective with any deterrence, you have to have an idea where the wolves are,” Kretz said. “How do you range-ride if you have no idea whether a wolf is within a 100 miles?”
Fish and Wildlife wolf policy lead Donny Martorello said the department also wants to have more collars on wolves, including the Togo pack. “It is on our priority list, as is Grouse Flats,” he said, referring to a pack that has attacked cattle in southeast Washington.
Trapping, however, is difficult and gets more difficult as wolves learn to avoid traps, he said. The department has tried several times to trap an adult female in the Togo pack, he said. “She’s not going to step into a trap. She’s educated. She’s too smart to step into a trap.”
Fish and Wildlife puts radio-collars on wolves for several reasons, including research and to track whether wolves are moving west as envisioned in the state’s recovery plan. In wolf-colonized northeast and southeast Washington, the collars help confirm depredations and are vital to finding packs if the department resorts to shooting wolves.
Currently, 14 wolves in eight packs are collared, a Fish and Wildlife spokesman said Thursday. The count includes two wolves that have left packs and one wolf collared by the Spokane Indian tribe. The department counted 126 wolves in 27 packs at the end of 2018. An updated count has not been announced.
House Bill 2906 proposes that Fish and Wildlife more than double the number of collared wolves. The department would be required to collar at least two wolves in packs that have been attacking livestock and would be “encouraged” to have a collar in every pack.
The department must trap and collar the wolves within its current budget, according to the bill. “It’s kind of saying, ‘Do your job,’ “ Kretz said.
Martorello said the department would like to have two collars in packs preying on livestock. Besides wolves growing wise to traps, trapping is hindered by weather, he said.
The department sets ground traps in only the spring and summer because a wolf captured in the winter could freeze to death. In the winter, the department tries to find packs from a helicopter, but the weather hinders searches, Martorello said. The department also tries to find packs on the ground in the winter, but “that’s an extreme long shot,” he said.
Martorello said he’s confident in the department’s trapping abilities. “Our folks who do wolf trapping are very, very experienced,” he said.
Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Scott Nielsen said more collars are “absolutely necessary,” especially in areas where ranchers lose cattle every year to wolves.
“For non-lethals to be effective, we have to have that information, and it hasn’t been available,” he said. “Let’s get some collars in these chronic-conflict zones.”
Kretz’s bill has 11 co-sponsors — a mix of Republicans and Democrats across the political spectrum.