OLYMPIA – Legislators in different chambers approved two very different plans Friday to address the growing wolf population in Eastern Washington.
The Senate voted to allow people to shoot wolves that create “imminent danger” to themselves, other people, their pets or livestock. The House voted to set up a fund that would compensate farmers and ranchers for livestock losses by selling license plates with wolves on them.
In one of the closest votes of the session thus far, the Senate voted 25-23 to allow wolves to be killed under certain circumstances. The main bone of contention was whether farmers or ranchers should be allowed to shoot wolves attacking livestock grazing on public lands.
Sen. John Smith, R-Colville, said the wolf population, once so rare it was listed as endangered, is growing rapidly in his northeastern Washington district, threatening people and animals. The bill does not represent “open season” on wolves, he said, but allows people to kill a wolf attacking their livestock or save their pets from the large carnivores.
“This isn’t a game,” Smith said. “This is people’s livelihoods.”
It passed, but not before spirited debate. Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said she and other opponents were supporting the bill when it only covered people and pets, but she didn’t think it should be extended to all livestock, especially those grazing on rented state lands. It changes the current wolf management plan that was “a truce that took three years to develop.”
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said he wished supporters of the wolf bill had as much empathy for urban residents who suffer violent death from “two-legged predators” with guns.
In the House, a much simpler bill would help compensate livestock owners for their losses to wolves by setting up a fund that would get money from the sales of special license plates that recognize the state’s wolf population and their special management needs.
Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, said the bill, which passed 75-22, would offer only limited help, likening it to “putting a Band-Aid on an amputation.”
Each bill now goes to the other chamber.