GPS data may resolve wolf issues



Just when you thought the intense discussion over the re-introduction of wolves in Washington state was quieting down, livestock deaths in Stevens County has added fuel to the fire. And the Stevens County Commission has stepped to the forefront of the debate.

On Sept. 17, commissioners in that county unanimously signed a resolution declaring that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has failed in its efforts to manage the state’s growing wolf population. The resolution also declares that wolves present an “imminent threat” to life and property.

The county is demanding that the state take immediate action. And if it doesn’t, the county resolution says it will take “whatever constitutional means necessary” to protect lives and property.

Doesn’t the story sound familiar?

Two years ago, it was the Okanogan County Commission that blasted the state over its failure to protect residents and their livestock from wolves. In addition to livestock, wolves also attacked pets.

The result was a wolf management plan that gives the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife the authority to cull packs that habitually attack livestock. The depredation of at least 24 sheep in three weeks last month are a clear indicator that the plan doesn’t work.

State officials could help resolve the issue by making tracking data public.

Several wolves in our state have been caught and collared with radio-transmitters. Those transmitters provide realtime global-positioning information that could be used by ranchers to know when wolves are encroaching on their pastures and grazing areas.

In the past, I’ve heard state officials and wolf supporters say that information should be private. But since the current wolf management system isn’t working, something needs to change.

If wolves are indeed here to stay, as some state officials and environmental groups contend, then the public deserves access to all information available to keep tabs on pack members. That includes GPS information from radio-transmitters.

Fish and Wildlife is funded through public tax dollars. Therefore, any tracking data it collects belongs to the residents of Washington.

Some wolf enthusiasts will claim the data would only be used to hunt down and kill wolves. Because ranchers here generally are too busy to worry about wolves that are not a threat, that fear tactic doesn’t hold water.

But there are other ways to help ranchers and residents deal with wolves using the GPS data For an example, let’s look to the Sequim area.

Some members of the Sequim elk herd have been outfitted with radio-transmitters. When those members near U.S. Highway 101, a lighted sign alerts motorists to the potential road hazard.

If the state isn’t ready to release tracking data to ranchers providing the economic base for rural areas like Stevens County, maybe it should consider a wolf-alert system similar to what’s been in use for years on the Olympic Peninsula. The system could be available to ranchers experiencing wolf-related problems.

Or maybe the state would rather rural counties and residents take matters into their own hands. Some residents are already wearing T-shirts that say “shoot, shovel, shut up.”

Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at rharnack@omakchronicle.com.



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