Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wolves are top priority

Wolves are top priority

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

OKANOGAN — Okanogan County officials are beginning to more fully engage on wolf-related issues after seeing how fast wolves have repopulated other parts of the West.

Last week, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers told cattlemen that he’s in favor of training his deputies to investigate livestock kills to determine whether wolves are responsible.

Okanogan County commissioners are working with six other Eastern Washington counties to push state officials to delist the gray wolf based on the federal delisting.

And on Monday, Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, introduced a bill to allow state agencies to move wolves from Eastern Washington to west of the Cascades.

Wolves have been a big issue in Okanogan County since 2008, when the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced the Methow Valley was home to the state’s first confirmed wolf packs with pups in 70 years.

Since then, officials believe several wolves from the pack were poached, and one rancher was the first to be compensated for a calf that officials determined was likely killed by it.

Tribal officials located two more wolf packs living on the Colville Indian Reservation, and opened a hunting season for them. And ranchers throughout the county are reporting livestock losses, although none have been confirmed wolf-kills.

“They’re starting to affect more and more people,” said Okanogan County Commissioner Jim DeTro.
Local officials are smart to be talking about wolf management, and discussing ways to resolve problems before they occur, said Dave Ware, game division manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Ware said his agency is surprised by how quickly wolves are moving into Washington. Already, there are five confirmed breeding pairs and eight wolf packs in the state, up from three breeding pairs in just one year. The number of individual wolves increased from 27 to 51, but reports of new sightings are coming in from all around the state — including some in Western Washington, Ware said.

He said his agency encourages county sheriffs to join Fish and Wildlife officers investigate livestock that may have been killed by a wolf, and plans to offer training in the next few months. “The local sheriffs have a good rapport with the local public, so if they understand what it is we’re going to be looking for, they can help protect the site and make sure that an investigation can occur,” he said.
Commissioners met with the Okanogan County Cattlemen last week to talk about their concerns with the state’s wolf recovery plan.

Rancher Dal Dagnon said most cattlemen won’t be able to take advantage of the state’s compensation program for livestock killed by wolves because they turn their cattle out to graze and don’t see them again until fall.

Many cattlemen last fall lost more cattle out on the range than usual, and believe that wolves are to blame.

He said cattlemen want to be compensated for cattle that don’t come home off the range above the numbers they normally lose. Local cattlemen are compiling data on annual losses so they’re ready to show the differences.

Sheriff Frank Rogers said it makes sense to him to train his deputies to investigate whether a predator killed livestock.

He said full compensation is based partly on how soon after the kill a scene was investigated. So if Wildlife officers are unable to respond immediately, local deputies can gather the evidence instead.
Vic Stokes, a Twisp cattle rancher and president of the Washington State Cattlemen’s Association, said they also worry that wolves will be more than fully recovered in Eastern Washington, but they won’t be able to control their population because the state’s recovery plan calls for too many breeding pairs to be spread out across different parts of Washington state.

He said the state doesn’t have enough resources to go out and find and confirm all of the breeding wolf pairs, so many won’t even be counted. A breeding pair means an alpha male and an alpha female who have produced at least two sets of pups.

Kretz introduced his wolf bill Monday and said residents of his district “feel greedy for hoarding all the ecological benefits of wolf packs,” so they’d like to share them with people on the Olympic Peninsula and the San Juan Islands.

Ware said currently, under the state’s wolf recovery plan, any proposal to move wolves across the state would require public scrutiny.