Washington livestock compensation system ‘broken’

Matthew Weaver/Capital PressHunters, Wash., rancher Dave Dashiell discusses his frustrations with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's compensation process July 7 during the wolf advisory group meeting in Spokane Valley, Wash.

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — Washington ranchers say the compensation system for livestock killed by wolves is a “farce,” telling the state’s wolf advisory group that payments are too low and late.

Rancher Dave Dashiell, who lost 300 sheep to wolves two years ago, spoke to the group July 7 during a meeting in Spokane Valley. A former member, Dashiell left the advisory group in 2015.

Dashiell based his loss estimate on several counts, including one during shearing. He said the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife offered him roughly $56,000 to $58,000 in compensation. That works out to $186 to $193 per animal, or about $216 apiece when considering the state subtracted 50 head for “normal losses.”

The prices he received at market were $300 for yearling ewes, $200 for ewe lambs, $250 for ewes and $200 for fat lambs.

“We’re at the point, ‘Should we take the money and run?’ or tell them to ‘Stick it, we don’t care, we don’t want to deal with you?’” Dashiell told the group.

Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association and a member of the advisory group, also voiced his frustrations.

“It is not timely, it does not work, it’s a farce,” he said of the compensation system.

Ranchers don’t trust the department when WDFW offers to help pay for livestock losses, Field said. The department added steps to the process and uses outside appraisers who don’t understand the industry, he said.

Candace Bennett, wildlife conflict specialist for the department in Spokane, told the group the problem lies in an “extremely cumbersome” process, including state law requirements and an “internal component” that is not working.

“I have pulled my hair out trying to get this to move forward for two years,” she said of Dashiell’s case. “All it’s done is destroy relationships. ... It’s paperwork after paperwork. The process is broken, at least for the direct-loss side of it. It needs a lot of work in all of those aspects.”

WDFW wolf policy manager Donny Martorello said the compensation process ignores other costs to the rancher beyond market value, including gas, trucks and extra hay to move the sheep out of a wolf-affected area.

“I don’t know that we’ve met the timeframe we’ve hoped for on any claims we’ve paid,” he said.

Martorello made plans to meet with Field and Tom Davis, director of governmental affairs for the Washington State Farm Bureau, to go over existing language to begin speeding things up. The meeting is slated to happen within a week to 10 days.

“This cannot take three months,” Field said. “We just need to go in with a red marker, line out a few things and make it quicker.”

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