TUMWATER, Wash. — Washington Fish and Wildlife may add a section on "chronic conflict zones" to its policy on killing wolves, calling on ranchers in hot spots to agree to pre-grazing plans to prevent depredations that trigger lethal control.
Wolf advocates, upset by the culling and eventual elimination of a pack over several years in the Kettle River Range in northeast Washington, are pushing for the addition. The department's Wolf Advisory Group discussed the section Thursday, but didn't conclude its review. The group plans to meet again in March or April.
"I absolutely think we have to have this section. Our community would be really angry with us if we walked away without this," Conservation Northwest policy director Paula Swedeen said.
Fish and Wildlife has shot wolves in the Kettle River Range for four straight years. Gov. Jay Inslee has said that repeatedly shooting wolves in the same territory is unacceptable.
Fish and Wildlife already asks ranchers to take extra precautions to protect their herds from wolves. The department says it shoots wolves as a last resort in places where non-lethal measures have been ineffective.
Stevens County Commissioner Don Dashiell, a member of the advisory group, said he doubts that adding a section on chronic conflict zones would change how ranchers and wildlife managers protect livestock.
"I don't think it would enhance any activities that would take place," he said.
In a draft, Fish and Wildlife defines "chronic conflict zones" as pack territories where the department has killed wolves for at least two straight years.
In those zones, Fish and Wildlife would work with ranchers to "understand the cause of the conflict" and come up with a plan that may include "innovations in non-lethal tools or changes in how they are deployed."
Ranchers and land managers also could line up "reserve grazing areas" to move cattle away from where adult wolves are rearing pups, according to the draft.
A rancher's willingness to follow a plan could influence how long Fish and Wildlife waits before thinning a pack that's attacking livestock, according to the department.
Fish and Wildlife wolf policy lead Donny Martorello said the department still has time to develop plans for the upcoming grazing season.
The plans would assure the public that ranchers and wildlife managers are trying to prevent depredations before using lethal control, he said. "It shines a light on the effort and energy we put into this," he said.
Fish and Wildlife has dozens of advisory groups. The department has elevated the profile of the Wolf Advisory Group, hoping a panel that includes ranchers, hunters, environmentalists and animal-welfare advocates can reach a consensus and rally broad support for wolf policies.
The group met Wednesday and Thursday without making any recommendations to the department.
Some Fish and Wildlife staff members who have to implement policies said they were distressed by the slow pace of deliberations.
Klickitat County rancher Jess Kayser said he too was frustrated. "I don't think anything got accomplished," he said.