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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Anger over wolf attacks rekindles at Washington agency meeting

Rancher Dave Dashiell gives testimony Tuesday in Colville to officials from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife about his frustration with wolves. “It’s awfully hard to outrun a pack of wolves with a flock of sheep,” he said. (Jesse Tinsley)

A tense summer between ranchers and wolves led to a packed crowd Tuesday night in Colville at a public meeting with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson.

One by one, people took the microphone to talk about the events of a grazing season where 33 sheep were killed or injured and a cow and calf were killed.

The comments had a common thread: Many Washington residents want wolves, but the ranchers and other residents of rural northeast Washington are the ones living with the impacts of the fast-growing wolf population, audience members said.

Twelve of the state’s 15 wolf packs are clustered in the northeast corner of the state.

“There isn’t any place in northeast Washington were you can go where there aren’t wolves,” said Dave Dashiell, whose 1,800 head of sheep sustained repeated attacks in August from the Huckleberry Pack. “What about next year? … It’s pretty tough to outrun a wolf pack with a band of sheep.”

“If it’s a question of wolf recovery, northeast Washington is already there and then some,” said Don Dashiell, a Stevens County commissioner and Dave Dashiell’s brother. “We feel like we’re not only recovered, we’re saturated.”

The four-hour meeting drew heated testimony, with some livestock producers telling Department of Fish and Wildlife officials that they couldn’t see any way for wolves and livestock to coexist. Others said the department lost credibility with ranchers over recent handling of the wolf attacks, which didn’t stop until Dave Dashiell moved his flock of sheep off the private pasture where it was grazing.

“I can’t put myself in your shoes,” Anderson told the standing-room-only crowd. “I do know the impact of wolves has been … severe on some. … I know there’s concern about your ability to carry on your way of life.”

Anderson told the audience Fish and Wildlife put a lot of resources into trying to stop the sheep kills, including about $52,000 worth of lethal and nonlethal measures. Department officials, using night goggles, were trying to shoot the wolves to deter the attacks at daybreak. During the attacks, Dave Dashiell and his employees also were authorized to shoot any wolves they saw in the area, Anderson said. But neither the state nor the sheepherders were successful.

A government marksman later shot the Huckleberry Pack’s breeding female from the air. “We got them slowed down, we couldn’t get them stopped,” Anderson said of the wolf attacks.

The sheep attacks in August were part of a series of events that have caused tempers to flare on all sides. While some ranchers wanted the state to kill more wolves from the Huckleberry Pack, pro-wolf advocates were angry that a breeding female was killed.

In September, wolves from the Profanity Peak pack killed a cow and a calf on a Forest Service allotment in Ferry County.

And Fish and Wildlife officials announced last week that they plan to capture a female wolf from the Ruby Creek pack that has been hanging around houses and dogs. She’ll be shipped to a wildlife center in Western Washington.

Since the sheep attacks, Stevens County commissioners have adopted a resolution saying residents have the right to kill wolves that are threatening people or property, or are a perceived threat. Anderson has written commissioners asking that they rescind the resolution. But commissioners chose to let the resolution stand, Don Dashiell said.

Audience comments also focused on the state’s wolf management plan, adopted in 2011. The plan says that wolves will remain a protected species in Washington until at least 15 breeding pairs of wolves are documented across the state for three years. The pairs must be geographically dispersed, so there are breeding pairs in Eastern Washington, north-central Washington and a zone that includes the south Cascades and Western Washington.

Achieving that type of wolf dispersal across Washington will probably take about seven more years, said Nate Pamplin, the department’s wildlife program director.

Audience members urged Fish and Wildlife officials to move faster, relaxing state protection for wolves in Eastern Washington. In the eastern third of the state, wolves have been delisted by the federal government. They remain federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state.

“There are a lot of fine men here who would sign up for (hunting) tags – for the price of a bullet – to manage wolves,” said Denise Rogers, a real estate broker from Colville, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

Others suggested transplanting wolves from northeast Washington to other parts of the state. “Trap them and transplant them to Western Washington,” one woman said, to audience cheers.

Relocating wolves would be a costly endeavor, requiring federal and state review, said Steve Pozzanghera, the department’s eastern regional director.

Anderson told ranchers that the state will continue to work with them, including developing a plan for the next grazing season.

“We’re going to recover wolves,” he said. “We’re going to do it in a manner that minimizes livestock losses.”

It won’t be easy, state officials acknowledged.

“We know, looking at other states, that about 20 percent of wolf packs have trouble with livestock,” Pamplin said.