Failed wolf bills likely to re-emerge

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Washington Legislature 'just ran out of time'


Capital Press

OLYMPIA -- The state's growing wolf population was one of the livestock industry's biggest issues going into the 2012 session of the Washington Legislature.

Dave Ware, game department manager of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said wolf-related legislation "just ran out of time. Several bills got initial hearings, but got lost in the last-minute budget issue."

Though none of the five bills ranchers supported made it through the session, language in one of them was incorporated into a bill relating to enforcement of wildlife regulations. A prohibition against feeding bears, cougars and wolves was tied to an agency bill.

The other issues will likely resurface in future sessions, Ware said. "It will depend on the luck of the draw and the course of events."

The state has five confirmed wolf packs, plus reported activity in five other areas. The wolf has been taken off the federal endangered species list in the eastern one-third of the state, but remains listed as endangered in the western two-thirds.

The state's wolf management plan, approved in December 2011, sets a goal of 15 breeding pairs statewide and allows for downlisting of the predator as population goals are reached in all three specific recovery areas.

Another bill, which classifies wolves as big game, would be consistent with hunting laws for animals such as the mountain caribou and the grizzly bear, Ware said.

"That will make the transition easier when they're no longer listed," Ware said. "The criminal penalty would be increased for illegally shooting a wolf."

Another proposal addressed compensating ranchers for livestock that wolves kill.

"We wanted to modify the language so the money wouldn't have to be appropriated every single year," he said. He also supported an amendment that cattlemen proposed, that funding "ought to roll forward to build that pot in coming years when there's more depredation."

Heather Hansen, who represents the Cattle Producers of Washington, offered a different reason the wolf bills did not advance.

"The House Democratic caucus opposed them," she said. "People in urban areas like the idea of wild lands and wildlife roaming free, but they don't have to live there."

That attitude is unlikely to change until wolves start showing up in Western Washington or highly populated areas, she said.

Ranchers Hansen has talked with didn't feel like they were adequately listened to, she said.

"They've seen what happened in Oregon, and it has been a total train wreck -- loss of livelihood, livestock being damaged. Cattle producers pay the price if it doesn't work. They won't be fairly compensated because there's no way to fairly measure their losses."

When asked if those concerns will be addressed in coming sessions, Hansen answered in one word: "Yup."

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