NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Wolves’ comeback breeds tensions

A con­tro­ver­sial and divi­sive fig­ure is rear­ing its scruffy head in Wash­ing­ton. Absent from our state for at least sev­en­ty years, the wolf is mak­ing a vig­or­ous come­back. And while Native Amer­i­cans hon­or it in sto­ry, ani­mal lovers appre­ci­ate its eco­log­i­cal role (not to men­tion its fam­i­ly loy­al­ty and intel­li­gence), many ranch­ers dis­trust it because it preys on livestock.

It’s sat­is­fy­ing to have an emblem of the wild like the wolf liv­ing in our state, but its return has led to ten­sions between rur­al res­i­dents and nature lovers.

Suc­cess­ful wolf rein­tro­duc­tion pro­grams in Ida­ho and Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park (in the north­west cor­ner of Wyoming) in the 1990s allowed wolves to mul­ti­ply and to even­tu­al­ly regain a foothold in East­ern Washington.

Wolves and humans in the state were get­ting along fair­ly well until this past July when Stevens County’s “Wedge” pack was accused of killing a large num­ber of cat­tle. This prompt­ed the state to kill one wolf, and after more cat­tle were attacked, to con­sid­er killing up to four more wolves in order to dis­rupt the pack.

On the oth­er side of the wolf debate are wolf advo­cates who think it’s too risky to elim­i­nate more wolves right now.  Sev­en advo­cate groups are protest­ing this action and are press­ing Gov­er­nor Chris Gre­goire to spare the ani­mals’ lives.

In a let­ter dat­ed Fri­day, the groups said Wash­ing­ton Fish and Wildlife Depart­ment offi­cers did not find con­clu­sive evi­dence that wolves were respon­si­ble for killing and injur­ing Dia­mond M Ranch cat­tle, so no more wolves should be killed.

In typ­i­cal fash­ion, ranch­ers and wildlife advo­cates are start­ing to butt heads over how best to man­age the wolf. Live­stock depre­da­tion is the same issue that led to the wolves’ forced erad­i­ca­tion from Wash­ing­ton in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. If we are going to keep wolves in our wild lands, we need to find a solu­tion that works for everyone.

While wolves are list­ed under the Fed­er­al Endan­gered Species Act in the west­ern two-thirds of the state, they are only under state con­trol in the oth­er third, and the state’s new wolf man­age­ment plan allows wolves to be culled if they kill live­stock. While this may seem harsh for an endan­gered ani­mal, the state con­sid­ers wolves to be dif­fer­ent than oth­er list­ed animals.

Unlike many oth­er list­ed species that may require habi­tat pro­tec­tions in addi­tion to “take” restric­tions, wolves are resilient and pro­lif­ic gen­er­al­ists that can thrive in many suit­able habi­tat types, assum­ing suf­fi­cient prey, and social tolerance.

Wolf depre­da­tion takes a toll on ranch­ers’ prof­its, and while some ranch­ers would like all wolves to be erad­i­cat­ed, oth­er ranch­ers think that cat­tle and wolves can coex­ist. Ida­ho and Mon­tana have been hav­ing some success.

Fif­teen years ago, Mon­tana faced the same wolf prob­lems as Wash­ing­ton, and by using cre­ative solu­tions wildlife groups were able to dra­mat­i­cal­ly decrease wolf-cat­tle pre­da­tion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Wash­ing­ton Fish and Wildlife Depart­ment has suf­fered years of resource-deplet­ing bud­get cuts which lim­it its man­age­ment options. Hope­ful­ly, wildlife groups can help fill the gap.

But many envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions are pinch­ing pen­nies, too. Peo­ple for Puget Sound just announced it is fold­ing itself into the Wash­ing­ton Envi­ron­men­tal Coun­cil due to dif­fi­cul­ties rais­ing money.

Under­stand­ing how cru­cial the public’s per­cep­tion of the wolf is to its sur­vival, a top pri­or­i­ty for Wash­ing­ton’s wildlife depart­ment is build­ing coop­er­a­tive rela­tion­ships with stake­hold­ers such as ranch­ers, hunters and rur­al res­i­dents, in order to build trust and sup­port for their man­age­ment meth­ods. Coop­er­a­tion will be key to grow­ing and main­tain­ing a healthy wolf population.

Wash­ing­ton is new to wolf man­age­ment and the state is feel­ing its way along. While our wolf pop­u­la­tion is expand­ing — up to eight con­firmed packs and a pos­si­ble four more — it’s still frag­ile and killing any wolves will have an impact on the population’s health. It’s impor­tant that Wash­ing­ton devel­op sys­tems and a cul­ture that allow wolves to take their right­ful place in the nat­ur­al ecosys­tem, while at the same time pro­tect livestock.

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One Comment

  1. This is a slaughter!!!
    Lets not let it go on!

    # by Marie Helene Morrow :: September 15th, 2012 at 5:10 PM
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