Washington residents have differing opinions on whether reintroducing wolves to our state is a good idea.
But farmers and ranchers being directly affected by wolves chasing and killing livestock are looking for a remedy. If the wolves are going to remain, then real and effective management tools must be made available to landowners allowing them to protect their animals.
And a compensation tool must also be provided to pay farmers for losses they experience.
During the 2013 legislative session, wolf management was a major issue due to the increase in established wolf packs in the state that has led to an increase in wolf attacks on cattle, sheep and domestic animals.
Washington Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups made it clear during session we would only support additional funding for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s wolf management work if the Legislature authorized landowners to shoot wolves “caught in the act” of attacking livestock or domestic animals.
It was recognized by all sides of the issue that this authority would be rarely used and that its use in Montana and Wyoming had had no impact on wolf recovery in those states.
The final, bipartisan deal struck by 10 legislators from the House and Senate consisted of two parts that must move in tandem.
The first part was additional funding for wolf management. The second part was implementation of the “caught in the act” authority through an emergency rule by the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
On April 26, the commission – in an emergency meeting – approved a rule stating the caught in the act authority “applies to the area of the state where the gray wolf is not listed as endangered or threatened under the federal endangered species act.”
Fish and Wildlife staff are now working on a permanent rule and recommending more restrictive language to allow the caught in the act authority to be used only in the “Eastern Washington recovery region and those areas of the state that meet or exceed four breeding pairs per recovery region…”
Under this proposed new language, even when wolves are federally delisted, landowners would be restricted from shooting wolves attacking their animals if they live in an area with fewer than four established wolf packs.
This restriction was not part of the final agreement that culminated in the passage of both the legislation and the emergency rule. Most surprising to us, at an Aug. 4 public hearing before the commission on the proposed changes to the emergency rule, Jack Field from the Washington Cattlemen’s Association and Amaroq Weiss from the Center for Biological Diversity both testified in favor of the new, more restrictive language.
This may be the first time a Washington ag group has agreed with this extreme environmental group. The Washington Farm Bureau strongly opposes the position taken by the Cattlemen’s Association and environmentalists.
We remain opposed to any additional restrictions to the caught in the act authority, and will only support the deal carefully struck during legislative session. If this change is made, it will be a breach of the agreement that led to our support of the Fish and Wildlife’s new funding.
We encourage both the commission and those who testified in favor of the four breeding pair restriction to carefully consider what version of the new permanent rule they end up supporting. A step in the wrong direction will needlessly unleash a divisive political battle over wolf management – something the current agreement was able to avoid.
Aaron Golladay is the first
vice president of the Washington
State Farm Bureau.