Wolf management in northeast Washington will be overseen this summer by Fish and Wildlife Eastern Region Director Steve Pozzanghera, a choice the president of a rancher’s group said ignores a troubled history between the department and cattlemen.
Pozzanghera will temporarily step aside as regional director, a position he’s had for a decade. He said he will coordinate the work of wildlife conflict specialists and wolf biologists and be the liaison between the department and the community in four counties.
The department plans to make the position permanent later this year and hire someone else as Pozzanghera resumes being regional director.
“I’m test driving it,” Pozzanghera said Monday. “I’m just hoping to create some efficiencies where we can.”
Pozzanghera, picked for the new post by Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind, comes with baggage, said Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Scott Nielsen, who called the appointment a “slap to ranchers.”
He said Fish and Wildlife needs to communicate better with livestock producers, but missed an opportunity by appointing an architect of the department’s past actions.
“I think they would have been a lot better off with a fresh face,” Nielsen said. “I think Steve will be a complete and utter failure at improving relations with ranchers. But, hey, having said that, Steve can prove me wrong.”
The appointment was a surprise to the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said Mark Streuli, acting executive vice president.
“Having Steve appointed to that post caught us off-guard altogether,” he said. “It’s such a critical one for ranchers. We don’t want to micromanage the director, but we’re going to watch the position closely.”
As regional director, Pozzanghera oversees the department’s activities in 10 counties. In his temporary position, Pozzanghera will supervise Fish and Wildlife’s wolf activities in Ferry, Okanogan, Pend Oreille and Stevens counties.
Most of Washington’s wolves are in the four counties. As the wolf population has grown, so have conflicts between wolf packs and livestock.
“It’s part of the territory that someone with a strong background in wolf management brings with them the weight of past history,” Susewind said in a statement.
“It’s Steve’s knowledge around these challenging issues that makes his appointment so advantageous. He understands the importance I place on collaborative solutions and knows that as part of this assignment, there are past issues he’s going to have to wade through,” Susewind said.
As wolf-livestock conflicts rise, the region becomes a “pressure cooker,” Pozzanghera said. He said he hoped to streamline the department’s response.
Ranchers have criticized Fish and Wildlife for being quick to require cattlemen do more to prevent attacks, while being slow to shoot wolves and letting livestock losses mount when preventive measures become ineffective.
Meanwhile, Fish and Wildlife is embroiled in lawsuits in Western Washington brought by environmental groups and wolf advocates who claim the department is trigger happy and too willing to kill wolves to benefit ranchers.
Pozzanghera’s position, which hasn’t a title beyond “special assistant,” will be in addition to several department jobs devoted to forming and carrying out wolf policies.
The Eastern Region’s fish manager, Chris Donley, will be acting regional director while Pozzanghera is on the temporary assignment.