Wildlife officials lose track of priorities

When it comes to a choice between protecting wildlife such as wolves and protecting humans, the answer should be easy, and obvious.

Brad Thompson is the Washington deputy supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Last week he met with the Okanogan County commissioners to discuss events before and after a 25-year-old Forest Service employee was rescued by helicopter July 12 from wolves in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest of north-central Washington.

Thompson came to clear the air and in the process stated the obvious.

“Are there things we could have done better in hindsight? Absolutely,” Thompson said. “I don’t think we did our best in this case, and we need to do better.”

Yeah, right on both counts.

WDFW employees initially opposed sending a helicopter or a sheriff’s search and rescue team for fear of disturbing the pack while it’s rearing pups.

The sheriff’s office says wildlife agencies were reluctant to share information, such as the woman’s name or the number of wolves she encountered.

The day after the rescue, sheriff’s Deputy Steve Brown said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Gregg Kurz discouraged him from investigating whether the wolves were a danger to campers and hikers and implied the deputy could be punished for violating the Endangered Species Act. Kurz said he was informing Brown about the federal law, not making a threat.

Understandably, it doesn’t seem like that to the Sheriff’s Department. And the whole episode still probably doesn’t sit well with state officials whose first thoughts were to quickly rescue the woman, but who were discouraged by wildlife officials who were afraid of spooking the wolves.

Commissioner Jim Detro said he’s skeptical and will wait to see whether the comments were more than lip service.

“We’re not going to let up on this at all,” he said. “They broke the trust, and they got caught.”

State and federal wildlife officials who have a responsibility to protect the wolves have a job to do — a job they take seriously. But they need to put the safety of humans first. Always.


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