A rancher whose business has been all but ruined by wolf depredation has teamed up with conservationists on a project that could determine if it's possible for livestock and wolves to share space.
If anyone knows the impact of wolves on the livestock industry it’s Dave Dashiell.
Last year the rancher lost 300 sheep to the Huckleberry Pack in Northeast Washington’s Stevens County. Although other Washington ranchers have lost livestock to wolves, no rancher has reported more losses or received more attention than Dashiell.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife approved shooting up to four wolves in the pack last year. The agency shot one, but stopped hunting when the sheep moved out of the pack’s territory.
Ranchers were outraged. Environmentalists were outraged that even one wolf was killed.
But Dashiell pressed on. He entered into an agreement with WDFW that included a whole list of preventive measures he would take to protect his flock. Earlier this year Dashiell lost 26 sheep in an attack that also left wounded a 92-pound sheep dog, one of five guarding the flock.
Justin Hedrick, president of the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, said at the time that the attack on the dog illustrates what happens “when you don’t kill the offending pack that needs to be killed.”
Nonetheless, Dashiell was forced off grazing lands in Stevens County by continuing wolf activity. He has kept his sheep on pastures near the Tri-Cities and spends $10,000 a month on hay.
So no one could blame Dashiell for taking a hard line on the subject of wolves and the environmentalists who advocate for them.
But last week Dashiell came to a tentative agreement with conservationists that could put him back on grazing land. We see that as a valuable step forward.
Dashiell is a member of the WDFW wolf advisory panel. The advisory group’s environmentalists tentatively agreed to publicly support Dashiell’s return to graze in wolf country. Dashiell said he will welcome their involvement in putting together a plan to protect his sheep with non-lethal measures.
Environmentalists involved in the deal say they want to show they can work with ranchers.
“That’s pretty gutsy of them. I don’t know what kind of blowback they’re going to get,” Dashiell said. “I don’t know what kind of blowback I’m going to get.”
There are extremists on both sides. Some ranchers would like to see all of the wolves eliminated. Some environmentalists would like to see ranchers pushed off public rangeland and to assume losses on private land as the cost of doing business in wolf country.
If it comes to fruition, the collaboration could answer two questions central to the issue.
Can ranchers and environmentalists work together to ensure both livestock and wolves survive on the range? Can non-lethal measures alone protect livestock while keeping ranching economically viable?
We’re not sure which is the more vexing question.
If the measures deployed adequately protect the sheep and are viable, everyone wins. If they don’t, then everyone will know.
Definitive judgments can’t be made on just one experiment.
But what happens after the results are known will tell us a lot about whether real cooperation is possible.