Thursday, September 3, 2015

WDFW hires wolf consultant, who closes another meeting

Don Jenkins
Capital Press
Matthew Weaver/Capital Press
Consultant Francine Madden talks with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Jim Unsworth and department wildlife program director Nate Pamplin prior to the wolf advisory group meeting May 21 in Airway Heights, Wash.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has hired a consultant to bring peace between parties at odds over how the state should manage wolves.

Conflict-resolution consultant Francine Madden will start her new two-year, $850,010 contract with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife by leading a closed-door session Thursday of the state’s wolf advisory group.

The group, following WDFW policy, had met in public for years until Madden convinced the department to close the May meeting. Since then, WDFW has re-upped Madden to lead meetings, conduct workshops and, according to her contract, coax warring parties into “mutually acceptable coexistence.”

The 18-member panel will convene 7:45 a.m. at a Comfort Inn in Tumwater to hear from two speakers before opening the meeting to the public at 10 a.m. Madden said Wednesday she doubts anyone would be interested in the morning session, but if they are, they can’t attend.

“This group needs to have some time to hear from each other about what their concerns are,” Madden said Wednesday.

Madden’s hiring represents a six-figure investment in addressing human conflict, which is the biggest challenge with wolf management, said WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello.

Madden, based in Houston, Texas, will be paid up to $8,000 a day to lead meetings and $400 an hour for “remote engagement and strategic guidance.” While traveling to Washington, she will receive $200 an hour.

Wolf advisory group members represent ranchers, environmentalists, hunters and hikers. WDFW hopes the disparate panelists can reach consensus on the state’s growing wolf population. Martorello said WDFW needed outside help to address deep-rooted conflicts.

“We started having the meetings without a facilitator and found it be extremely challenging,” Martorello said. “We tried an in-house facilitator from the department and still found we weren’t making progress on these issues.”

Martorello defended closing the morning session, where the group will hear from Woodland Park Zoo vice president for conservation Fred Koontz and a teenager from Kids for Wolves.

He compared the meeting with a tour of ranches the group took in May. The group is scheduled to hear from hunters at its next meeting.

Wolf advisory group meetings are not subject to the state’s public meetings law, though the WDFW has a general policy of opening up meetings of publicly funded panels that advise the department and presumably shape decisions.

The wolf advisory group was scheduled to gather Wednesday evening at Wolf Haven International, an animal refuge in Tenino, with WDFW providing dinner.

“To me, there are transparency issues,” said state Sen. Brian Dansel, whose northeast Washington district has the heaviest concentration of wolves.

Dansel opposed legislation authorizing WDFW to hire a consultant to lead wolf meetings. The legislation failed, but WDFW funded the position out of its capital budget.

Dansel called the advisory group a “bad vehicle” for setting wolf policy, which he said should be left to legislators or the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“I’ve never really had faith in the wolf advisory group,” he said. “It’s like, mass special interest.”
Madden interviewed dozens of legislators, ranchers, environmentalists and WDFW officials this year for an $82,000 report on the wolf management conflict.

“After meeting her, I have to say she may have the ability to bridge the groups that are somewhat dug in,” said House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee chairman Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen.