Anytime you say anything about wolves, you're sure to get a response. What surprised me is that at least a dozen people actually read the column.
About half of those who emailed me agreed that the Department put itself in a no-win situation when it decided to gun down a half-dozen wolves that reportedly killed or injured at least 17 calves and cows on the Diamond M ranch in northern Stevens County.
The other half said the Department had acted prematurely and yielded to pressure by one rancher who hadn't tried non-lethal methods of discouraging wolves from making steaks of his livestock. One note even suggested that Department officials on the sunny side of the Cascades weren't in favor of the state's wolf management plan and might do what they could to scuttle it.
Most hunting Websites have lengthy and lively discussions about wolves. Many are filled with the rhetoric of the Three S philosophy:
Shoot. Shovel. Shut up.
On the other side, folks like the Defenders of Wildlife provide plenty of equally passionate discussions about wolf recovery. They demonstrated in Olympia last week and many attended a Wildlife Commission meeting on the subject.
At the heart of the Wedge pack controversy is one of the owners of the Diamond M ranch, Bill McIrvine. He said he and his ranch hands had tried all of the non-lethal wolf control measures suggested by the Department.
"We've done everything the department has suggested except for a range-riding program, and we have five riders of our own who do it very well," he said. "We refused compensation for our killed stock because it would look like it was all right if the wolves ate our cattle as long as we got compensated."
"It's not all right."
Some of the non-lethal means of controlling wolves, such as fencing or using livestock-guarding dogs might require resources not available to many ranchers. And McIrvine's livestock grazed on both private and public land.
The solution to wolf management in northeastern Washington is to allow ranchers to treat the animals like any other livestock predator, such as bears and cougars. That is, let 'em shoot the critters.
That was suggested by at least one speaker at the Commission meeting, a representative of the Stevens County Cattlemen's Association. That won't happen anytime soon, since the state's official position is to re-establish a viable wolf population in three regions of the state, including the Olympic Peninsula.
I hope that what happened to the Wedge Pack won't be repeated elsewhere in this state. The Wildlife Department doesn't need that kind of controversy.
But I don't think there are enough truly wild places left in this state to sustain a healthy wolf population without some livestock predation. One reader emailed me "Wolves think cattle are just big slow deer."
Washington wolves will also be chowing down on real deer and elk. That won't make them popular with most of us two-legged predators.
Seabury Blair Jr. is the author of Backcountry Ski! Washington; Day Hike! Olympic Peninsula; Day Hike! Columbia Gorge; The Creaky Knees Guide to Washington; the Creaky Knees Guide to Oregon; and Washington Wild Roads. E-mail Seabury at email@example.com