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Monday, September 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Susan Kane-Ronning: We need research-based wolf regulation

By Susan Kane-Ronning, PHD

Since 2012, 31 wolves have been lethally removed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife due to livestock/wolf conflicts; 26 of these wolves involved livestock conflicts with the same rancher. This rancher, whose cattle graze on public land, failed to move cattle from known wolf sites, failed to remove salt licks once it was known they were near high-use wolf sites, failed to use nonlethal deterrents and turned out calves with their mothers too early. He has been publicly quoted as saying for every dead cow he wants a dead wolf. Paid for by taxpayers and killed by WDFW helicopter sharp-shooters, WDFW’s costly lethal removal has eliminated entire packs and killed breeding mothers with pups who eventually died.

WDFW initially procrastinated in creating a wolf recovery plan. Environmental groups made repeated requests for rulemaking. Instead, WDFW chose to develop a Wolf Advisory Group and created a protocol for wolf/livestock conflicts. The protocol consists of check marks on a list with unenforced suggestions for nonlethal deterrents. Behind closed doors, without public conversation, the WDFW admits to failing to follow this protocol when deciding to kill wolves.

Ranchers are supported by cattlemen’s groups with lobbying power, who have boots on the ground at the first signs of depredation. WDFW has allowed lethal wolf removal before it ascertained whether wolves were even responsible. Range riders, an effective means of wolf/livestock deterrents, are encouraged but not required. WDFW-funded range riders are facing possible charges for defrauding taxpayers for range riding when they were hours away shopping. Their failure resulted in wolf depredations on cattle, and subsequent WDFW lethal wolf removal, also financed by taxpayers.

In trying to please ranchers and lobbyists, WDFW has put itself in a difficult position, destroying public confidence in its ability to manage wolf recovery. WDFW appears weak, bowing to ranchers’ interests and lobbying pressure. The lack of enforceable rules, and WDFW’s arbitrary reliance on an ineffective, inconsistently enforced protocol continues to damage WDFW’s reputation and fuels distrust. Regulations should be enacted by the commission that oversees WDFW with required and enforceable constraints on when, where and how lethal removal may occur.

Wolves are a uniquely social species with distinct pack cultures. They provide favorable benefit to vegetation and other species, strengthening ecological habitat. Cattle grazing on decades-old grazing allotments in prime wolf habitat encroaches on and jeopardizes wolf recovery. If ranchers grazing cattle on public lands refuse to use non-lethal deterrents and generate wolf/livestock conflicts, their grazing rights should be reviewed and revoked.

Hunters assert wolves deplete elk and deer numbers. Research states the opposite. The actual threat to elk populations is human disturbance, forest management practices and severe winters. Unlike hunters, wolves prey on weak, sick and older animals, strengthening the herd. Wolves are especially effective in preying on ungulates with Chronic Wasting Disease; they protect the species and hinder spread of the disease.

Lethal wolf removal doesn’t work. In a review of 114 studies worldwide, the only methods scientifically shown to deter conflicts between livestock and wolves are nonlethal methods. Regardless, the WDFW continues to state publicly and through advisory groups that killing wolves is an effective means to deter conflicts with livestock. Killing wolves forces the remaining pack to care for orphaned pups, threatens dispersal and increases risk for future depredations.

Most Washingtonians share an interest and passion for wolf recovery and are vocally against lethal wolf removal. In response, WDFW now denies public access to hearings, censoring details regarding wolf depredations with media and the public, under the claimed need to ensure public safety. Threats of violence are never OK, but prohibiting public meetings denies taxpayers’ rights to speak and strengthens the position of ranchers who graze their cattle on public lands.

Although the Wolf Advisory Group has made several attempts to create a workable protocol, it has failed each time. Killing wolves should be prohibited except in defense of human life or safety. Killing wolves for conflict with livestock and killing of wolves on public land should never be allowed. WDFW should act in a responsible, research-based manner.

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