Washington cattlemen wonder what's in store for them next spring with regard to wolves and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's game plan to manage wolf-livestock conflicts.
SPOKANE — Two Washington ranchers have more questions than answers about what wolves will mean for their livelihoods come spring.
Ranchers Jeff Dawson and Dave Dashiell spoke during the Washington State Cattlemen’s Association convention in Spokane about their experiences dealing with wolf packs.
Dawson, who ranches near Colville, said wolf management is an expensive endeavor he can’t afford so he has worked with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the wolf advocacy group Conservation Northwest.
The radio-collared wolf in the nearby Smackout Pack was killed by a cougar, he said. That leaves him trying to manage his animals without knowing where the wolves are, until they attack.
In July, there was also an influx of new wolves moving into the area, he said. He hopes for more information, noting the department tried to collar a wolf but was unsuccessful.
“It gets to the point where that’s all you think about — you try to think about your normal ranch work, but this is one of the topics that comes up: every morning has something to do with the wolf,” Dawson said.
“Are we even going to be able to go back in the same area?” asked Dashiell, of Hunters, who estimates he lost 300 sheep to wolves this year. The state has confirmed 32 wolf depredations. “Looking at the game department’s map, there’s no place you can go that there isn’t going to be a pack of wolves you’ll be bouncing up against, any place close to home. Our options are very limited on going some place else.”
Dashiell said he bought more guard dogs for next spring and hopes for wolf collar data from the department.
“Just because I moved out of the country, the problem isn’t solved,” he said. “It’s an ugly deal, and you don’t want to go through it.”
Nate Pamplin, wildlife program manager with the WDFW, said the department hopes to establish local work groups around wolf pack locations to develop strategies for managing wolf-livestock conflicts in the spring.
The department would proceed with killing wolves in the Huckleberry pack in the spring after two depredations, Pamplin said.
Conservation Northwest co-sponsors a program to assist ranchers using range riders.
“Prevention is less expensive than the loss of livestock,” said Paula Swedeen with Conservation Northwest. “It’s not going to be 100 percent, but you can spend a little bit of money on prevention to prevent a whole lot of loss later.”
Dashiell said nonlethal tools were not effective. Dawson called for education for wolf supporters and the public on the need to remove problem wolves quickly.
Pamplin is troubled by comments from wolf advocates questioning whether ranchers should allow their livestock to graze on private and public lands at all.
“Wolf recovery shouldn’t come at the expense of an industry,” he said. “We need to work together to resolve those problems. If the preventative measures won’t work, then we need to have the ability to do lethal removal.”