Wolf collars

A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist holds a radio collar that wildlife managers use to track wolves. Stevens County Sheriff Brad Manke has offered to help the department trap wolves so they can be collared.

A northeast Washington sheriff has offered to help Fish and Wildlife trap and collar wolves, a proposal the state agency says it's considering but hasn't accepted.

Stevens County Sheriff Brad Manke said more radio collars on wolves would help ranchers protect their herds. In an email to Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind, Manke said the state's trapping efforts have been "sporadic and unsuccessful."

"We don't have enough collars in our local packs," Manke said in an interview Tuesday. "To me, it's absolutely a public-safety issue to have collars."

Manke made the offer in early January. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Staci Lehman said the department plans to meet with Manke later this month or in early March. "We're definitely willing to consider it," she said.

Radio collars help Fish and Wildlife and ranchers monitor packs. Wolves are collared in four northeast Washington packs. The department counted 18 packs in the region at the end of 2018. The department eliminated one pack last summer to stop attacks on cattle.

Fish and Wildlife's performance and priorities in collaring wolves have come under fire. Northeast Washington state Rep. Joel Kretz is sponsoring a bill directing Fish and Wildlife to focus on collaring wolves in packs that attack livestock.

Previously, Kretz obtained state funding for Stevens and Ferry counties to hire a wildlife deputy, Jeff Flood, to monitor wolves.

Flood is an experienced trapper, and his services wouldn't cost Fish and Wildlife anything, Manke said.

"We'd like to have at least one collar in every pack, but a lot of time and resources are involved in that, and that's why I've offered my guy," the sheriff said. "My guy is available five to seven days a week for long periods."

Kretz said Tuesday that Fish and Wildlife should accept Manke's offer.

"They want to keep all the cards in their hands," he said. "I think it's crazy they wouldn't jump on it."

Fish and Wildlife can boost local confidence in its trapping program by welcoming Flood's help, Kretz said.

"If Jeff showed up and couldn't catch anything, they would think he made his best effort, because he has that reputation," Kretz said said.

The Stevens County Cattlemen's Association says collaring more wolves will help ranchers prevent depredations that lead Fish and Wildlife to kill wolves as a last resort.

"The department isn't doing what it needs to do. Instead, it just asks the rancher to do more, and it's insulting. Just insulting," the association's president, Scott Nielsen, said. "I think a much better job (of trapping) could be done, and I think Jeff would get it done."

Fish and Wildlife says collaring wolves is a high priority, but wolves are hard to capture because they learn to sidestep traps.

The department said it had more collared wolves in Stevens County, but over the past year one collared wolf was killed by a cougar and another in an unsolved case of poaching. A third collared wolf dispersed from the county, and the collar on a fourth wolf came to the end of its functional lifespan, according to the department.

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