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Thursday, August 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Bart George: Out-of-state interests push Washington wildlife changes

By Bart George

Whether alarm systems, magazines or pest control, door-to-door sales people interrupting time with friends and family is unacceptable. Likewise, special-interest groups and individuals peddling failed policies state to state need to leave Washington alone. The recent op-ed in The Spokesman Review by Michael Sutton and John Land Le Coq (“Washington should ban wildlife killing contests,” July 12) is nothing more than those with special interests selling their agenda to Washingtonians. Neither is a resident of Washington, hailing instead from California and Colorado, but feel it necessary to tell us why we need to adopt their policies, and speaking as if they’re residents.

The only thing the two got right in their column was the fact that hunters contribute significantly financially to, and play an important role in, wildlife management – something that won’t change with their policy desires. Part of that management is mitigating the boom-and-bust cycles of predator and prey balances in correlation with available habitat, so as to reduce ecosystem-wide suffering and human-wildlife conflicts.

We’ve seen this out-of-state dog-and-pony sales pitch before, and Washington citizens are still paying for it. The 1996 ballot initiative that bans the use of dogs for mountain lions and other predators, which was pushed by the Washington, D.C.,-based Humane Society of the United States, has resulted in an unprecedented number of lions killed by the state for two decades – at an annual, recurring cost to taxpayers.

The Humane Society of the United States is now pushing more failed policy changes at the doors of nearly a dozen states in the last 18 months – including Washington. Its sales people pound on every door and won’t take no for an answer, despite the fact that this has never been an issue for residents. The group recently held a Zoom webinar to unveil how it plans to conquer Washington and Oregon.

That issue, organized hunting for predators and invasive species that have no bag limits, is already highly regulated compared to nearly every state in the country. Individuals can’t organize these, only registered nonprofit entities approved by the state can. Additionally, only approved species can be hunted and limits exist on compensation.

The policy changes HSUS, Sutton and Le Coq seek would cost not just state taxpayers, but family farmers. Our already revenue-starved state will be forced to pay commercial hunters and trappers to control predators and invasive species, as they have with mountain lions for two decades. They could even have to pay reparations due to losses, as they do now with wolves. But those who really suffer are those who have to live with the repercussions – farmers, ranchers, rural and suburban families – during an already unprecedented time of economic hardship.

These out-of-staters have no problem sacrificing our family farmers and ranchers.

Washington cattle (52.8%) and calf (63%) losses due to coyotes exceed the national average by 10-12%, respectively. Injured cattle alone cost family ranchers $274,000 a year in Washington. Sutton and Le Coq see no issue with gambling billions of dollars of Washington agriculture against invasive species, such as nutria, wild pigs and other species arriving on the landscape, which would all be covered under this policy.

Sutton, as former head of California Fish and Game, should, of all people, understand the damage nutria, which plague California, pose to fragile ecosystems. Washington has already spent tens of thousands of dollars annually trying to control them, and recently hired professionals to eradicate them on Lake Washington.

While an organized hunt to remove them may not be a solution for Lake Washington, it may be a useful tool on this side of the state – from the Columbia Basin irrigation districts to Eastern Washington lakes, wildlife managers are on the lookout for this species and are planning ahead for control efforts. Let’s keep out-of-state animal-rights groups from removing tools from our local wildlife professional’s toolbox.

Regardless of how you feel about hunting, or even organized contests to reduce the number of dangerous and costly predators and invasive species in the state, this decision should be discussed among Washingtonians and not driven by out-of-state salesmen pandering for multimillion-dollar organizations.

Bart George is a Spokane County resident, hunter and professional wildlife biologist.

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