The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s wolf advisory group has agreed to a lethal-control policy that representatives of ranchers and conservationists agreed will be better than the department’s current and sometimes-maligned protocol.
The new policy retains four depredations in one year as the minimum threshold for triggering lethal control of a pack. But it firms up what ranchers are expected to do to prevent attacks. The policy also sets how WDFW will tally up depredations that occur in consecutive years.
Lethal-control decisions will still rest with WDFW Director Jim Unsworth, but the protocol should clarify how the department will respond if preventive measures fail, Washington Cattlemen Association’s Executive Vice President Jack Field said.
“It is essential that producers know there is a process in place,” he said. “This clearly gives producers an opportunity to be preventive and for the department to follow through and do its job.”
WDFW has twice resorted to shooting wolves to stop depredations. Both times, ranchers and wolf advocates criticized the department’s decision-making process. WDFW turned to the 17-member wolf advisory group to help it develop a protocol with broad-based support.
The group met several times over the past year before reaching consensus on a lethal-control policy at a meeting Wednesday in Ellensburg.
“This was the test. Did all that stuff pay off? I think it did,” said Paula Swedeen of Conservation Northwest. “The conservation side certainly understands we needed to come out with an easy-to-understand protocol.”
To prevent depredations, ranchers will be expected to remove livestock carcasses and bones and implement one other preventive measure, such as guard dogs, range riders or waiting until calves are bigger before turning them out to graze.
After one depredation, WDFW staff members will consult with the rancher to see whether additional preventive measures could be used.
Previously, WDFW called for all “feasible” preventive measures be tried, leaving expectations more open-ended.
WDFW will consider shooting wolves in a pack responsible for six depredations over two years. Previously, it was unclear how depredations separated by the winter would be counted.
WDFW wolf policy lead Donny Martorello said the department will soon put the policy in writing and circulate it.
WDFW has invested heavily in the wolf advisory group, hiring a consultant, Francine Madden, to lead meetings. The members represent hunters and animal-rights groups, as well as conservationists and ranchers.
WDFW hopes the wolf advisory group’s collaboration will lead to support for the policy from the general public and skeptical ranchers and environmentalists.
“In the end, there was cohesion,” Martorello said. “I’m amazed by it.”
Defenders of Wildlife’s Northwest director, Shawn Cantrell, said he and other advisory group members have pledged to stand behind the policy.
“I think we did a pretty dang thorough job of going through it,” he said. “I think we have put together a solid package that will withstand the scrutiny of other groups that weren’t part of the process.”
Field said he hopes the group will move on to talking about the state’s wolf recovery goals. Wolves are well established in northeastern Washington, but will remain a state-protected species until they have dispersed in greater numbers throughout the state. WDFW estimates those goals won’t be met until 2021.