Wolves are a state-protected species in Washington. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has refined its policy on when it will consider shooting wolves to protect livestock. Courtesy of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Washington’s new wolf-control policy entrusts frontline state wildlife managers with deciding whether ranchers are doing enough to stop depredations. “They are the agency experts,” state Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said Monday. “I think the protocol really (recognizes) that expertise.”
To protect livestock, WDFW shot wolves in 2012 and 2014 under a policy that the department acknowledged was not well understood and lacked popular support.
The revamped policy caps a yearlong effort by the department’s Wolf Advisory Group, which includes ranchers and environmentalists. The 17-member group last month agreed to a new policy, which WDFW officials have now fleshed out in a five-page document.
The decision to shoot wolves will remain with WDFW Director Jim Unsworth. But the new protocol for pushing the issue up to Unsworth includes giving WDFW wildlife conflict specialists around the state “full discretion” to oversee non-lethal means of stopping depredations.
Washington Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Jack Field, an advisory group member, said he supported relying on the judgment of WDFW field employees. “They know far better than Olympia what’s going on and what needs to happen,” he said.
The policy applies to the eastern one-third of the state. Wolves are federally protected in the western two-thirds of Washington and immune from lethal removal.
The new protocol retains or elaborates on some of the main features of the old policy.
Four depredations in a year or six over two years qualifies members of a pack for lethal removal, but only if ranchers tried to keep away wolves with measures such as lights, alarms, ribbons, dogs and cowboys.
Martorello said the department wants to collaborate with rather than dictate to ranchers. “We want to have a relationship with producers,” he said.
At a minimum, ranchers will be expected to remove or bury cattle or sheep carcasses and bones to keep from attracting wolves, plus use one other deterrence measure with the concurrence of a WDFW wildlife conflict specialist.
If a depredation occurs, the new policy calls for all other feasible preventive measures to be employed. WDFW’s policy had been to re-evaluate preventive measures after each depredation, a source of frustration for some ranchers.
So far this year, WDFW has confirmed that wolves killed a 8- to 9-month-old Holstein heifer in Stevens County in northeastern Washington and a calf in Asotin County in southeastern Washington. In some cases, ranchers suspect wolves of killing livestock, but WDFW investigators find the evidence inconclusive.
Stevens County rancher Scott Nielsen, vice president of the Cattle Producers of Washington, said ranchers already protect their livestock from predators without the state’s involvement. “I don’t think the game department should be making operating decisions for me,” he said. “If I had an issue (with wolves), I would bring in the sheriff. If the sheriff chose to collaborate with the department, so be it.”
Most of the state’s wolves are in northeastern Washington. Nielsen said withholding lethal removal because a rancher didn’t collaborate with the state would be unpopular. “I think that won’t fly in this area,” he said.
Center for Biological Diversity wolf organizer Amaroq Weiss said the new policy doesn’t confront whether shooting wolves actually deters depredations.
Researchers have come to different conclusions. “We wish this agreement had been based on science,” Weiss said. “It certainly makes it hard for us to support it.”