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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Sophia Ressler: Washington needs rules that avoid wolf and livestock conflict

Sophia Ressler

By Sophia Ressler

Conflict between livestock and wolves is not inevitable, and Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife should rely on solid science to develop wolf management rules that prevent the killing of wolves, while also protecting cattle, sheep and other domesticated animals.

The department is currently considering rules to dictate when wolves can be killed over conflicts with livestock. The livestock industry has voiced its opposition, arguing that the rules will be too onerous for owners whose cattle are affected by predators. But this misses the point. The purpose of this rulemaking is exactly the opposite: to stop conflict between livestock and wolves before it begins and prevent impacts to livestock owners.

Science shows us that use of nonlethal methods best prevents such conflicts. These include techniques to scare wolves away by hanging colorful flags around pastures and placing devices that make noise and flash lights. Deterrence methods also include range riders, either on horseback or mounted on offroad vehicles, to keep wolves away from grazing cattle.

For years, the department has killed wolves in the same area on behalf of the same livestock producer. This has only resulted in new wolves moving into the territory and more wolves being killed. Clearly the continuous slaughter of wolves isn’t working; year after year the cycle repeats itself. It’s why using appropriate, nonlethal methods – tailored to the specific situation and landscape – needs to be included in the department’s rule.

The bottom line is that gray wolves are an endangered species, protected both by state and federal law in the western part of Washington state. Their recovery in Washington has thus far been a success story, but it’s also just beginning. Wolves need safe places to live, including the public forests where ranchers graze their livestock at highly subsidized rates.

Moreover, wolves are a crucial part of the ecosystem. They help keep Washington’s deer and elk populations healthy and reduce the spread of disease.

All we request is common-sense regulations that require appropriate, nonlethal techniques for a given circumstance to be tried before the state uses taxpayer money to gun down ecologically critical native carnivores. These rules would also create accountability for the state. Is that an unreasonable ask?

I don’t think so, and neither did Gov. Jay Inslee when he mandated – following a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, and our partners – that the department undertake this rulemaking.

In fact the current proposed rule language doesn’t go far enough. It needs to put in place enforceable protections that will help wolf recovery statewide and better protect both wolves and livestock.

That’s why we’re asking for more prescriptive language, backed by science, to be included in these rules. For example, the rules need to apply statewide instead of only in chronic conflict areas and create thresholds that restrict when the department can consider killing wolves. We’re also asking for a firm expiration date on all kill orders and for language that requires use of the best available science, instead leaving decisions entirely to staff preferences.

These rules will help protect Washington wolves, livestock and ranchers alike, and are the best way to manage conflict moving forward. If you support this request, please let the department know by the April 11 deadline.

Sophia Ressler is staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity in Seattle.