Thursday, August 9, 2012

Washington wolf debate enters new, lethal arena

The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife announced Tuesday that it had killed a wolf in the “Wedge” region of upper Stevens County, and indicated that by Wednesday afternoon, another of the predators could be killed.

UPDATE: Northwest Sportsman has reported that a second wolf was not killed as planned, and that the WDFW has, at least for now, suspended the effort.

Northwest Sportsman and the Seattle Times reported that the first wolf had been taken and it quickly ignited new emotions on the popular Northwest Hikers forum thread dubbed “Wolves need our help NOW!”

But this time around, it’s the rancher who has lost some livestock to wolves, and from this column’s current ironic perspective — sitting in a jury pool at the King County Courthouse — one can only hope the right wolves are in the crosshairs.

Washington hunters, of course, are more concerned with the welfare of the state’s elk herds, and they have been paying attention to the expansion of wolves into the state. Hunters are not sharing the same sentiments as wolf advocates on the hiking forum, either on the Hunting-Washington forum.
The lethal removal of a wolf or two by the WDFW should have been foreseen by those who supported a management scheme that calls for a large wolf population. This is part of management, whether one likes it or not.

Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest, the group that employs Fish & Wildlife commissioner Jay Kehne as an outreach associate in Okanogan County, was reportedly upset by the wolf killing. Quoted by the Seattle Times, Friedman observed, “The killing of problem wolves will be part of life in Washington from here on out. But it’s unclear in this case whether the right livestock stewardship steps have first been tried to reduce conflict potential. If we expect wolves to behave, ranchers need to meet them halfway.”

What on earth is Friedman talking about? We expect wolves to behave…like wolves. There is really no “half way” about it. If wolves are expected to behave like some cartoon character, complete with a singing voice, the real wolves have been slow to catch on.

Wolves eat other living creatures, whether they are cattle, sheep, elk, deer, moose or some other animal. Recent years have also demonstrated at least twice that they have killed people, and last year’s fatal encounter in Idaho between a wolf and bowhunter Rene Anderson near the tiny hamlet of Headquarters should have surprised nobody.

The Evergreen State has entered a new, lethal arena and it is a safe bet that Friedman is correct; more wolves will eventually be killed in response to livestock predation.

But where does that leave hunters and big game managers? Where the dead cattle are property of a single rancher, the big game herds belong to everyone, and one might reasonably argue, especially to the hunters, from whose license, tag and firearms and ammunition purchases the revenue is generated to protect and even enhance the herds.

Wolf advocates may be groaning, but hunters are a bit more celebratory that the WDFW has crossed the threshold to demonstrate a seriousness about their management chore