Responding to pressure from Gov. Jay Inslee, Washington wildlife managers are considering implementing new wolf-livestock rules.
Per the proposal, which was announced in a news release last week, before the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife could kill wolves that attacked livestock, agency staff would need to confirm that livestock owners had implemented appropriate nonlethal deterrents. The proposal would also create Chronic Conflict Zones within the state. These zones would have area-specific criteria for the use of nonlethal and lethal measures.
The proposed rules do not explicitly state which nonlethals are considered appropriate. That decision was intentional, WDFW wolf coordinator Julia Smith said. Chronic conflict zones would have more detailed conflict management plans, she said.
“It’s intended to be the tried-and-trued stuff, but also leaving the door open to try new things if the livestock producer is open and amenable,” Smith said. “We don’t want to prescribe things broadly.”
Ranchers use fladry (colored string tied to fence lines that flutters in the breeze), motion-activated lights, human presence and other techniques to keep wolves from cattle.
Both proposals are open to public comment through April 11.
“I’m hopeful that it will actually help in reducing conflict and reducing wolf removal,” Smith said. “Because again, this isn’t wildly different than what we already do, but it is proactive.”
The rule change requiring agency staff confirm the presence of nonlethal deterrents would codify what WDFW staff already do, Smith said, adding that it is “not different from what we do now, but it’s not specifically in law.”
Creating Chronic Conflict zones would be new for the agency, although the Washington Wolf Advisory Committee did consider a similar proposal.
“The proposal creating WAC 220-440-260 aims to address areas that have experienced significant levels of livestock depredation and subsequent wolf removals year after year, an especially difficult scenario for all communities concerned about wolf conservation and management,” Smith said in a news release. “This proposal focuses limited time and resources to areas where the most livestock and wolf loss has occurred in the state.”
Both proposals stem from a letter Gov. Inslee sent the agency in 2019, demanding that WDFW kill fewer wolves.
“We must find new methods to better support coexistence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state,” Inslee said in the letter. “The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable.”
As part of the public comment and rule-making process, WDFW conducted an environmental impact statement and a small business economic impact statement. According to the economic impact statement, the rule will “disproportionally impact small businesses,” as roughly 98% of Washington livestock producers employee less than 50 people. The cost for nonlethal deterrents varies greatly, although human presence is by far the most expensive option, the report notes. There are state programs that can offset those costs.
“Generally speaking, costs incurred by businesses that have experienced and are actively deterring repeated wolf depredation incur the greatest costs,” the report states. “Producers in this category cited annual out-of-pocket costs ranging from $30,000 to over $50,000 spent on implementing nonlethal deterrents. For businesses paying out-of-pocket for range riding, these costs are the greatest of the expenses incurred.”
In 2021, WDFW killed two wolves in Columbia County in response to attacks on livestock. That is the lowest number of wolves the state has killed since 2015.
Meanwhile, there were 21 documented livestock attacks, the lowest number of depredations since 2017.
“That is incredibly low,” Smith said. “And removing two wolves is incredibly low. So I know that any number above zero is hard for folks and hard for us, too. But it’s something that we should acknowledge we are doing well.”