Half-dozen producers take part in citizen advisory group
By MATTHEW WEAVER
There's no need for the state of Washington to bring back wolves. They're returning on their own, according to state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials.
"People are thinking we're reintroducing wolves," said Spokane-based department information officer Madonna Luers. "We never have, never will, have no plans to. We don't need to -- they're coming here on their own, from Canada, Idaho and Montana."
The department is seeking public review of a draft plan for managing the wolves to deal with potential conflicts, such as preying on livestock or herds of elk and deer. The public-comment deadline is Jan. 8.
Most livestock losses come from disease, weather and predators, Luers said, but wolf kill can be devastating to an individual producer.
A 17-member citizen advisory working group included six producers, she said.
The goal is to increase the number of breeding wolf pairs to get the wolf removed from the state and federal endangered species lists.
"We want to get the wolf down from endangered to threatened to sensitive to off the list, possibly some day reclassified as a game species, possibly some day hunted in Washington, as it is in Idaho and Montana," Luers said. "We need to get there with a scientifically credible number of wolves to get them delisted, a number that would stand up to legal challenges in the courtroom."
To delist wolves, there need to be 15 successful breeding pairs of wolves, which translates to five to 10 wolves in a pack. Six pairs would lower the wolf from endangered to threatened and 12 pairs would classify them as sensitive.
Many in attendance at a public listening session Oct. 27 in Spokane Valley, Wash., voiced concerns about whether the number of breeding pairs was too high or too low, and they also wondered whether the state would even have funding available for livestock reimbursements or to manage the animals.
Public meetings are taking place throughout the state through Nov. 10.
Colville, Wash.-based cattle producer Ted Wishon voiced concerns about the apparent dismissal of a minority report from the wolf working group that called for fewer breeding pairs: three to be categorized as threatened, six to be considered sensitive and eight to delist.
He would rather start smaller, managing so that wolves have less impact on the public and livestock industry.
Lamont, Wash.-based sheep producer Art Swannack served on the wolf working group, but did not sign the minority opinion for fear that it would split the group.
"Then the plan only gets written by the wildlife department and the people in charge of Olympia, which usually are large numbers of people from a city viewpoint, which isn't favorable to ranching," he said.
If a producer has wolf depredation on his ranch, he must contact the department, Luers said.
Currently, the nonprofit organization Defenders of Wildlife is paying the value of a livestock animal killed by wolves.
The second alternative in the department's wolf management plan proposes paying twice the animal's value if it occurs on property of 100 acres or greater, and full value for a probable wolf kill.
"A piece that big, you don't find all the carcasses," Luers said. "We're giving the benefit of the doubt to the producer that if a wolf killed one, there might be a second one out there."
A third alternative would pay twice the value of the animal regardless of the size of property.
Under endangered classification, Luers said, it is illegal for anyone to kill a wolf for any reason other than to preserve human safety. At the threatened status in some of the alternatives, nonlethal measures could be taken to move wolves from an area.
Department regional director John Andrews said the Legislature would allocate money for wolf management.
"We currently don't have it in our budget," he said. "The department has already taken fairly significant cuts. We don't have other areas where we can take money to cover wolf conservation and wolf management."
The current management plan could be detrimental to the livestock industry, which is already running a tight line, Wishon said. Many losses are unidentifiable or unknown until gathering time in the fall, he said.
"We lose a lot of cattle to predators right now before the wolves are reinstated," he said. "If we don't see those cattle within 24 to 36 hours of a kill, it's nearly impossible to autopsy them and give them a probable or possible wolf kill."
Swannack said wolves in general aren't good for livestock producers. But in order for the management plan to work, there needs to be support for the plan politically to provide funding, support from livestock ranchers so they feel they can stay in business and from environmental and conservation groups to help provide funding.
The deadline for public comment on the wolf management plan draft is Jan. 8. A final plan will be presented to the department commission in late 2010. The plan is available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wildlife/management/gray_wolf/.