OLYMPIA — Legislation to shield Washington wildlife managers and ranchers from death threats also could bar the public from learning where wolves are attacking livestock and what steps are being taken to prevent depredations.
The House State Government Committee has unanimously endorsed withholding public records that name ranchers who report and state employees who respond to depredations.
House Bill 1465 also would bar releasing “any information regarding the location of the depredation” that “reasonably could be used” to identify any person. The names of ranchers who sign agreements to use non-lethal measures to deter depredations also would be exempt from disclosure.
The bill stems from unspecified threats last summer as the Department of Fish and Wildlife shot seven wolves in the Profanity Peak pack in the Colville National Forest. One producer told the Capital Press that the ranch was receiving daily death threats.
WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello, whose name appeared frequently in the media as the agency’s spokesman, told the committee at a hearing this month that he was so alarmed that he sent his family to a hotel.
In Ferry County, where the state shot wolves, Sheriff Ray Maycumber said in an interview that phone calls, emails, Internet postings and second-hand reports raised concerns. “We heard some pretty violent rhetoric,” he said.
No arrests were made and no suspects were questioned, he said. “Nothing struck us as clear and present.
“If I had had something solid to go on, I would have spent money I don’t have to put a deputy on a plane to fly somewhere and make an arrest to set an example,” Maycumber said. “It would have been very beneficial to everybody if I’d been able to arrest someone.”
Under current disclosure laws, WDFW limited the release of information last summer, providing sporadic updates on its search for wolves. WDFW didn’t respond to a Washington State University researcher’s claim that a rancher elected to release cattle “on top” of the pack’s den.
Six days after the Seattle Times reported the claim, WSU released a statement calling the allegation against the rancher inaccurate.
Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen, who ranches in adjoining Stevens County, said that during the operation in Ferry County “the crazies came out of the woodwork.”
He said he couldn’t support withholding information about damage-prevention agreements between the state and ranchers.
The agreements make ranchers eligible for compensation for lost livestock and added expenses, such as hiring more cowboys to guard herds.
“If you’re going to take state dollars and give it to ranchers for any reason, you better not keep it secret from folks,” Nielsen said. “I think the people have the right to know that.”
Rowland Thompson, a lobbyist for two newspaper trade groups, likened the ranchers to crime victims.
State law already allows the names of crime victims to be withheld.
Thompson also said the organizations are not concerned about disclosing where state employees live.
“We are concerned about the location of (the depredations), and we are concerned about what is done with these complaints,” he said.