Northeast Washington ranchers have begun moving their cattle to remote Forest Service meadows, where many of the herds will spend the summer grazing in territory occupied by the state’s growing wolf population.
With a high potential for conflicts, eight environmental groups have petitioned state officials to create rules that would place limits on killing wolves that attack livestock.
They acknowledge that wolves that habitually prey on livestock will need to be killed, but the groups want such actions to take place only after ranchers have exhausted nonlethal measures to protect their animals, and only after four confirmed wolf attacks resulting in livestock deaths.
In 2012, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife made the controversial decision to eliminate the Wedge pack, after repeated wolf attacks were documented at a Stevens County cattle operation. Seven wolves were killed.
“We think that nonlethal actions need to be the focus,” said Mike Petersen, executive director of the Lands Council in Spokane, one of the groups that petitioned the agency.
The use of range riders, fencing with plastic flags and quick carcass removal have been successful in reducing wolf attacks on livestock in other regions and should be widely adopted in Washington, Petersen said.
The state “needs to move along quicker before more cows get attacked and wolves get shot because of that,” he said.
The groups filed a similar petition last year with Department of Fish and Wildlife but withdrew it after the agency agreed to create rules. With no rules in place for the 2014 grazing season, they re-filed the petition.
Dave Ware, Fish and Wildlife’s game division manager, said the timing of the petition surprised him. The agency has been working on draft rules in discussion with the state’s wolf advisory group, which includes environmental groups and ranchers.
The draft rules were about to be released for public comment, though they are less stringent than what the environmental groups want, Ware said. The petition’s filing triggers a 60-day period for the agency to respond. If the petition is denied, the groups said they will appeal to Gov. Jay Inslee for a decision.
Other groups signing the petition were the Kettle Range Conservation Group, Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club’s state chapter, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Environmental Law Center, Wildlands Network and Gifford Pinchot Task Force.
Washington’s wolf management plan lays out four criteria for killing wolves that prey on livestock. The wolves must be linked to repeated, confirmed attacks on livestock; nonlethal measures failed to stop the attacks; department officials determined that attacks were likely to continue; and the livestock owner didn’t intentionally lure the wolves.
Washington has at least 53 wolves in 13 packs, according to state estimates. Last year, the death of one calf was confirmed as a wolf kill in Washington. Three dogs were injured by wolves.
The state has hired a wildlife conflict specialist to work with northeast Washington ranchers. About 20 ranchers statewide have received state grants for cost-share programs for proactive measures to reduce wolf-livestock conflicts, Ware said.