Bills would rein in wolves
Currently, our state is engaged in a wolf recovery program. This plan has led to wolves being established in areas where they have not existed for nearly a century, if ever. As wolves rapidly multiply they displace other indigenous predator species that have been present for generations. This results in dangerous and higher-than-normal human-predator interactions as lower level predators, such as coyotes and black bears, move to new territory.
I have lived in northeast Washington for 24 years. Three of our region’s eight confirmed wolf packs roam within 15 miles of my ranch, as well as countless other predators. Over the course of generations, local ranchers and farmers have developed a relationship with predators. Bear, coyote and cougar populations have reached and are maintaining sustainable levels, even though locals have the right to use lethal means to protect their property and families. There can be a respectful peace between man and wildlife, including predators, even when humans exercise the right to protect themselves.
Many fear that policies driven by special-interest social pressure from an isolated part of the state threaten our rural families and economy. It can be hard to relate to the devastation challenges that residents in northeastern Washington face as wolves make their home in our backyards.
Imagine if an urban family awoke one night to the terrified cries of their golden retriever shrieking in pain as a roving pack of wild dogs tore it to shreds. Then, local law enforcement informed the family that state law prevented them from responding without authorization from the other side of the state, perhaps delaying response by several days. Imagine the shock as law enforcement further explained that if the family attempted to intervene and protect their pet, they may be charged with a felony. Then perhaps, as the family was dealing with the loss of a family pet, strangers from miles away called to blame them for the incident because they lawfully utilized a public park during the summer to take their pet for a daily walk. This sad illustration is analogous to the unthinkable conditions Washington cattlemen currently face.
Predators survive because they are efficient. They don’t recognize the difference between public and private land; they just know that 6-month-old calves are easier to catch and kill than deer. Addressing operation losses and increased costs due to predation is expensive, and not just for the ranchers. The effects are also felt by the communities where the ranches contribute to a significant portion of the local economy.
Studies suggest that more than 50 percent of the retail shopping done by rural residents happens in regional urban centers. A significant hit to any of Stevens County’s foundational industries, like ranching, can mean millions of dollars of lost revenue to the city of Spokane. This is a job-killing stress on an already struggling economy. As you can see, this is not just a rural issue.
Due to the broad effects of the cattle industry in our regional economy, I introduced Senate Bill 5188, which would clarify the authority of county commissioners to declare a state of emergency. The measure would also empower county sheriffs to utilize necessary force to address specific, localized predator threats to key commercial industries like cattle ranching.
I believe our farmers, ranchers and rural homeowners have a fundamental human right to defend their lives, families, property, pets and livelihoods. That is why I was the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5187. Currently, state law suggests that if a landowner shot a wolf attacking a pet or farm animal, the landowner would be guilty of a felony. This bill would restore landowners’ constitutional right to protect their safety and property.
Finally, neighboring states like Idaho experienced catastrophic devastation to commercial industries and local wildlife populations because of delays in making the transition from wolf recovery to management protocols. Senate Bill 5193 would list wolves as a game species so that as recovery goals are met, immediate steps can be taken to manage these populations at sustainable levels. This would ensure that their explosive growth does not do significant harm to other species populations and private industries.
None of these proposals suggests utter annihilation of any species. Instead, they attempt to chart a course where the interests of all stakeholders are considered as Washington moves forward with a long-term plan for protecting the diverse wildlife populations, foundational agricultural industries and cultural heritage that make northeast Washington such a treasure.
Sen. John Smith is a Republican from Colville.