TONASKET — Legislative Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, joined senior citizens for lunch last week at the Tonasket Senior Center, where he spoke to a large audience after they sang “Happy Birthday” to Kretz.
“You’ve packed the house,” said Tonasket’s Wayne Verbeck.
“I think it’s just full because they’re serving Chinese food,” said Kretz, whose humor took a more serious turn as he spoke about the 2019 legislative session.
“The good news is, there’s lots of money in Olympia this year,” said Kretz.
“Several billion more than last year. Unfortunately, the governor has plans to spend it all and is asking for another $2 billion in raised taxes. I don’t think that needs to happen.”
Kretz said Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed budget, released in December, includes $1.5 billion to go toward orca whales.
Kretz pointed out that while politicians on the west side of the state want to take out dams on the Snake River, claiming the dams are causing a shortage of fish for the whales to eat, they don’t want to address issues in the Seattle area affecting orcas.
“If it was up to me, I would require Seattle to stop dumping raw sewage into Puget Sound,” said Kretz. “It seems like that would be an impact on the whales. Every time they get a heavy rain, the big cities dump the raw sewage, and then wonder why the orcas are having a hard time.”
Kretz said millions of gallons of storm water and raw sewage are being dumped into the sound.
“If they are trying to fix an orca problem on Puget Sound and the coast, why are we talking about taking out the dam? The orcas spend most of their time in Puget Sound,” said Kretz. “We can’t even drill a well over here, and they are running raw sewage right into the sound.”
Kretz said he wants to focus attention “back on the people living on the same side as the whales.”
Kretz said another issue the state continues to be divided over is wolves.
“People there love wolves. I had a bill to take them to the west side, and took it to all the legislators that love wolves.
“They said, ‘Well, that would bring them here. I can’t sign that,’” said Kretz. “It’s the definition of a hypocrite. The funny part is, we can say we’ve done a great job recovering wolves (east of Highway 97), but these guys don’t want anything to do with them.”
Kretz said the relocation bill got through the House but got stuck in the Senate.
“But I’ve got a line item in the budget that funds an environmental impact study,” said Kretz. “When you go to the game department and ask, ‘Why not relocate?’ they say, ‘Well, we’d have to do a study.’ I was told in June they will have all the science to do the study.”
Kretz said areas being looked at to relocate wolves include Mount St. Helens, where there’s a “huge elk herd with foot rot” and the wolves could “clean that population up.
“Ferry County and Stevens County is a war zone,” Kretz continued. “One rancher lost 72 head of cattle. It’s a messed-up system, to take a wolf out you have to find a dead calf, which can be hard to locate.”
Kretz said the biggest cost to ranchers is not the dead animals, but the poor health of the herds resulting from wolves.
“Cows are coming in 200 pounds light, without a calf, and not pregnant,” said Kretz. “One rancher sold 200 head of young cows because they were skinny and stressed.”
Kretz said confirming wolf kills is difficult.
“Most are clear, the whole back end is eaten out, but they say, ‘This animal could have died, and then got attacked.’ One rancher who had two range riders and everything he was asked to do, had two calves tore up on the Kettle Range.
“He roped them, got to an area where he had cell service, and called the game department around 10 or 11 a.m. They said they ‘We can’t come up today, bring them down to a corral.’ Fish and Wildlife came out and said, ‘It’s a confirmed wolf attack.’
“Then it got into the office and Olympia got into it and the next day it was declared a ‘probable’ wolf attack,” said Kretz. “I called my friend, said, ‘Go back out and rope those calves.’
“I got some county commissioners, a police chief, a veterinarian and brought in Jake Nelson from Danville, who went up and roped them and found another one that had been chewed up.
“We had all three calves in the corral, and when they arrived they said, ‘What are we here for? I can tell from 30 yards away it is a wolf kill.’ Now they are not playing games on this issue. They know we are going to have a veterinarian come in and look at it.”
Kretz has often stated the wolf recovery issue is “the ugliest issue I have ever worked on.”
“The phone starts ringing at 7 a.m. and goes to midnight,” said Kretz. “There are people who think we should go out and poison wolves, and others that don’t think one should ever be killed.
“But there are a number of us working on a middle way, where there is a wolf population but with a protocol that works. One where we can still have kids and pets in our back yard.”
Kretz said he is working on a bill to declare the four eastern Washington counties hit the hardest by wolves as recovered.
“These ranchers can’t take any more losses. We need to figure out how to work on this on a local basis,” said Kretz. “A wolf bill is the easiest thing in Olympia to kill.”
Senior citizens also heard from guest speaker Lisa Eaton, who is looking into a grant for the heating and air conditioning system at the senior center after discussing the center’s needs with Esther Caton.
“I discovered most application processes open up in the spring,” said Eaton, “So we have time to get all the details. We can get all our ducks in a row.
“Joel (Kretz) provided us with resources and contacts to network with, so hopefully we will be able to get the grant. The heating system is the most important thing to address next.”