TUMWATER, Wash. — Washington wildlife managers will digest ideas from an advisory group and propose a new protocol for shooting wolves to protect livestock.
New lethal-removal procedures may not differ much, if any, from current practice, which has been criticized by ranchers and environmentalists.
But the state Department of Fish and Wildlife hopes that drawing on the advisory group’s diverse viewpoints will foster broader acceptance of lethal-removal policies.
“It is the biggest issue for the department,” WDFW wolf policy lead Donny Martorello said Tuesday near the end of a two-day meeting of the department’s Wolf Advisory Group.
WDFW’s general policy is to consider lethal removal after four depredations. The department also must conclude that preventive measures have been tried and failed, and that depredations are likely to continue.
Other considerations such as pack history and the time between depredations can further complicate the decision.
The advisory group spent most of two days in a motel conference room tossing out and discussing variables WDFW should consider.
By the end Tuesday, meeting facilitator Francine Madden had taped 125 pages of handwritten notes on the walls.
Martorello said WDFW staff members will take the notes and develop lethal-protocol options for the advisory group to consider in May.
“I don’t have a preconceived idea of what the outcome will be,” he said. “From my perspective, I see more input and themes than I’ve seen before.”
Washington Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Jack Field, a group member, said he had confidence in the department, especially since WDFW officials in Tumwater will involve field staff in Central and Eastern Washington who work directly with ranchers.
“I think we’re in a really good place,” he said.
WDFW resorted to shooting wolves in 2012 and 2014 to stop depredations on livestock — high-profile actions that outraged wolf advocates but also fell short of some ranchers’ expectations.
WDFW hired Madden and enlarged the advisory group a year ago to encourage collaboration. The advisory group’s 17-member roster represents livestock producers, environmentalists and hunters.
The group has yet to make any specific policy recommendations. The discussions Monday and Tuesday touched on many subjects, but there was no consensus on any topic.
WDFW can only use lethal removal in the eastern one-third of Washington, where 77 of the 90 wolves counted by the department in 2015 roamed. Wolves are federally protected in the western two-thirds of Washington, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t use lethal removal to manage wolves.
Producers are generally asking for policies that ensure repeated depredations will be quickly and effectively confronted. Environmentalists are stressing exhausting preventive measures first.
The Cattle Producers of Washington and the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, two groups whose members are most affected by wolves, withdrew from the panel last fall, questioning its value.
WDFW apparently will grapple with lethal removal of wolves on a case-by-case basis for several more years. Although the statewide population has grown by one-third each of the past two years, wolves are still concentrated in northeast Washington and will remain a state protected species until they are established in the North and South Cascade Range.