State agencies charged with managing wolves that are naturally repopulating their range in Washington are poked like dead meat in every direction by sportsmen, ranchers, wolf-loving zealots and rural district politicians.
Sometimes the wildlife managers are more gun shy than the wolves, which don’t have to suffer the phone calls from legislators, county commissioners or journalists.
Tonight, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials are stepping out of the pressure cooker to serve the appetite one faction has for information.
Tapping experts from other agencies that have been peeled, pared and grilled, they will address sportsmen’s concerns about wolves and their impact on big-game herds and hunting.
Montana and Idaho have been managing wolves longer than the Evergreen State, notes WDFW director Phil Anderson: “Their experience can provide context to inform the department and citizens on how to confront the challenges that lie ahead for Washington.”
The public can tune in to a webcast starting at 6:30 p.m. to hear directly from men who have had to balance the expansion of wolves with the value of deer, elk and moose while under the heat of the law and public opinion.
Jon Rachel, Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s state wildlife manager, and Jim Williams, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ northwest wildlife program manager, will discuss the changes wolves have made in deer, elk and other big game herds in their states.
Lessons hunters have learned for successful big-game hunting strategies in wolf country will be discussed.
Dave Ware, WDFW statewide game program manager, will update the status of wolves and big-game hunting in Washington.
The public can ask questions by email. This will eliminate the distraction of extremists who tend to take over traditional public meetings, as they did earlier this year in Colville.
Sportsmen who have given up on elk or deer hunting – because of stories suggesting that wolves have decimated big game herds – apparently lack the flexibility to adapt.
Creatures of that sort don’t survive in the wild.
Meanwhile, hunters with a will are finding a way. Tonight’s webcast should give hunters a few recipes to consider.
But sportsmen are only one of the many factions wildlife managers must face as wolves expand into the region.
This week, a northern Stevens County rancher is charging that some of his calves once again are being killed by wolves.
Len McIrvin of Diamond M Ranch in Laurier says he’s sure a wolf killed a calf in an enclosure surrounded by a six-wire barbed fence.
However, despite being 200 yards from human presence, the carcass was mostly consumed before being discovered. WDFW officials say coyote tracks at the site make it unclear what predator killed the calf.
Confirmed attacks on at least 17 Diamond M Ranch cattle last year prompted the state to use a helicopter gunner to kill six wolves from the Wedge Pack.
Pro-wolf groups criticized the agency. Anti-wolf groups said it was too little, too late.
The Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association is cranking up the burners.
“Right now we are seeing the department buckle under pressure from environmental groups who have absolutely no skin in the game,” said Jamie Henneman, association spokesperson. “There is no impact to their finances or livelihood if wolf management is done in a poor, watery or slipshod fashion. Band-aid payments of compensation will not solve this problem.”
No relief is in sight as wolves are expanding their range.
A gray wolf – this one mostly black – was captured in Pend Oreille County Monday morning by Washington Fish and Wildlife Department technicians so the animal could be fitted with a GPS collar.
The wolf was released where it was captured – on a Forest Service grazing allotment full of cattle.
Although this wolf had not been associated with livestock attacks, more depredation is inevitable as wolf packs expand.
Is the 68-pound yearling female still attached to an existing pack or is it a member of a suspected but unconfirmed new group that would be labeled the Ruby Creek pack?
No one knows. Time will tell as state biologist monitor the wolf’s movements in concert with movements of wolves already collared in the area’s well-established Smackout, Huckleberry and Diamond packs.
The number of packs confirmed factors into the day wolves can be removed from state endangered species protections.
If a new Ruby Creek pack were confirmed south of Ione, the next stepping stone for wolf expansion could be a Mount Spokane pack or a Tumtum pack or a Steptoe pack.
No one knows for sure.
The wolf caught Monday is one of a dozen captured and collared this year, mostly by helicopter during winter, to help wildlife managers monitor their activities.
Success in capturing wolves for research is boosted when the agency gets timely tips on wolf sightings.
“We get a lot of tips and we’re thankful for that,” said Scott Becker, the biologist in charge of the capture and collar program. “Most people want to help us manage them, I think.”
Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.