Emotions are so intense that planned public meetings on wolves are too risky to hold and have been canceled, Washington Fish and Wildlife said Tuesday.
The department had scheduled 14 open houses throughout the state in September and October to collect comments on how wolves should be managed once they are breeding all over rural parts of Washington.
Fish and Wildlife said it had information that the meetings could be disrupted and even unsafe. The department did not provide specifics.
The department was concerned about having enough law enforcement officers at every open house and about people feeling intimidated, spokeswoman Staci Lehman said.
“The bottom-line is better safe than sorry,” she said. “It’s frustrating for us because we need to go out and talk to people.
“We’d like it to be done in a civil way.”
Instead of in-person meetings, Fish and Wildlife will hold three online open houses. The dates for the digital meetings have not been set.
The department expects writing a post-recovery plan will take several years. Statewide recovery is also years away. The department has no evidence wolves breed in the South Cascades or southwest Washington, a prerequisite to taking wolves off the state’s protected species list.
Northeast Washington, however, is saturated with wolves, according to the department. Wolfpacks are attacking cattle, and Fish and Wildlife has resorted to killing wolves if non-lethal measures fail.
As in past summers, feelings are high. The department supported legislation in 2017 that shields the identities of ranchers who lose cattle and Fish and Wildlife employees involved in controlling wolves.
The OPT pack in the Kettle River Range was eliminated by Fish and Wildlife this month because of chronic attacks on cattle. The department plans to lethally remove the two wolves in the Togo pack, also in the Kettle River Range.
Several ranchers in northeast and southeast Washington have lost livestock to wolves this year.
“We’ve seen incredible intensity around wolf issues this summer, on both sides of the issue. For outreach to be meaningful, our meetings have to be productive,” Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, we’ve received some information that indicates to us that the meetings could be disrupted, possibly creating an unsafe meeting environment for the public participating,” he said.
The public will be able to ask questions and comment during the digital open houses, according to Fish and Wildlife.
“We will schedule additional in-person engagement opportunities later in the process, once we have a draft plan and are requesting comments,” Susewind said. “We will do our best to ensure that those meetings will be productive and safe.”
Fish and Wildlife anticipated the migration of wolves into Washington would create a human-management problem for it. The department has invested heavily in time and money in a Wolf Advisory Group that includes conservationists and livestock representatives.
The group helped Fish and Wildlife craft a lethal-control policy. Wolf advocates are challenging the policy in Western Washington courts.