OLYMPIA – An Eastern Washington rancher lost some 300 sheep to wolves last year when the flock was sent to a grazing area that contained a wolf den. Wildlife experts monitoring recovery of wolves in the region knew where the den was, but area ranchers didn’t.
Had the rancher known about the den, he wouldn't have put some 1,800 sheep into the leased grazing area, said Rep. Joel Kretz, sponsor of a bill that would try to avoid such losses through better communication and improved management of the region's wolves by adjusting a 2011 plan.
Although wolf legislation often sparks an East-West fight, Ketz’s call for better management received a good reception in the House Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday.
“I'm a city boy, but that doesn't seem like a good idea,” Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said about grazing sheep close to a wolf den. Other West Side legislators said they’d work on amendments for a bill that could pass.
A wide range of competing interests over wolf recovery in Washington generated a negotiated a management plan that was finished at the end of 2011. Kretz’s bill calls for a review of many parts of that plan, including conditions that allow for killing individual wolves. It would also consider different ways of measuring the wolf population so the animals could be taken off the state endangered species list in parts of the state where they are more numerous.
Ten of the state’s 13 known packs are in his Northeastern Washington district, Kretz said. But wolves generate strong feelings on both sides, he acknowledged: “You like ‘em or you don’t. Folks in my district don’t.”
The case involving the sheep being sent to graze in an area with the wolf den is a complicated one, he said. The tracking device was put on one of the wolves by the Spokane tribal officials and state wildlife officials were reluctant to reveal the information. But there should be some way to at least warn ranchers moving livestock into an area, he said.
“Putting sheep and wolves together like that, that’s just guaranteeing trouble,” he said.
Legislators asked David Ware, the state Fish and Wildlife Department’s wolf expert, why Washington couldn’t just adopt the wolf policies that Montana and Idaho have because they seem to have fewer problems with livestock killings.
Those states don’t have their own Endangered Species Act, and the wolf population has grown so they aren’t listed under federal law, Ware said. Under federal law, wolves in the eastern third of Washington aren’t endangered; under state law, they are.