The Daily Howler 1-29-13: Legislators Take Comment On Wolf Bills
A public hearing on a quartet of wolf bills in Olympia drew a fair-sized audience and numerous comments, from stay the course on the Washington wolf plan to support for allowing ranchers and others to shoot wolves attacking their stock no matter the predator’s legal status.
(UPDATED 7:30 A.M. JAN. 30, 2013)
1) A public hearing on a quartet of wolf bills in Olympia drew a fair-sized audience and numerous comments, from stay the course on the Washington wolf plan to support for allowing ranchers and others to shoot wolves attacking their stock no matter the predator’s legal status.
In attendance were numerous ranchers, a handful of senators, some wolf activists, a lobbyist or two, a Seattle TV reporter, and a couple state wolf managers.
2) Following up on her vow to craft such a bill last summer, Senator Pam Roach, sponsor of SB 5079, said it would pay for wolf depredations from the General Fund.
Tom Davis of the Washington Farm Bureau called that “critical” because support for wolves in the state is widespread and payment for losses should not be born by hunter or angler license dollars.
He said his organization was more neutral on SB 5193 though generally supportive. Among other things it would establish a wolf license plate with proceeds going to nonlethal management, but Davis said that that assumes the buyer wouldn’t support lethal removals, which a majority of Washingtonians do approve of in the case of livetock depredations, according to a 2009 survey.
The bill would also classify wolves as big game, though no hunts would occur till they’re taken off the state ESA list and the Fish & Wildlife Commission OKs seasons. It also adds noncommercial animal owners to the list of those who may receive compensation for depredations.
A quartet of county commissioners from Northeast Washington were generally in favor of both bills, with some reservations, one being that the $50,000 of state funding available for payouts could be sucked dry pretty fast if events in the Wedge this past summer are any indication.
(There was another $30,000 from federal and private sources.)
Earlier in the meeting, WDFW’s Dave Ware said that the agency had paid at least $1,295 to an Okanogan County rancher who lost a calf in May and $300 to a Spokane County sheep owner who lost one ewe and had two others wounded. He said that 5079 was slightly different than the bill his agency wanted, but called establishment of a dedicated account “very important.”
3) Several wolf advocates — Fred Koontz at the Woodland Park Zoological Society, Lorna Smith at Western Wildlife Outreach, Dianne Gallegos at Wolf Haven and a private citizen — urged the committee to, in one man’s words, “fly the plan,” meaning continue to use WDFW’s 14-month-old wolf plan document as the guiding document for managing and recovering wolves.
(The Daily Howler suffered a little bit of whiplash as he recalled the howling last summer that WDFW wasn’t sticking to its wolf plan as it took out the Wedge Pack after it had killed six calves and wounded 10 others, per p. 88 of the management guidelines.)
4) If there was general agreement about the first two bills, there was less when it came to SB 5187 and SB 5188, which generally empower local authorities and ranchers to take matters into their own hands.
The former would allow property owners to kill wolves and other large predators attacking their livestock regardless of location in Washington or state classification, and without a permit from WFDW. The latter would give counties the authority to declare “imminent threats” to their well being and allow sheriff’s deputies or others to take out depredating wolves.
Senator John Smith, a Colville-area Republican and small cattle grower, sponsored both bills. Living in wolf country and speaking to 5187, he said he wouldn’t be able to shoot wolves attacking the family dog or his daughter’s horse.
“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said.
The bill, however, appears to need some more work to make that clear.
5) As for 5188, Smith said he’d been misquoted in the press that it would allow open season on wolves. He said it clarifies and authorizes management rights that county commissions already have.
Worrying about impacts to local livestock and hunting industries, and believing they have the authority to take over some wildlife management, the four Northeast Washington county commissioners all supported the bills.
Brad Miller, a Ferry County commissioner, assured legislators that his constituents would take responsiblity for implementing 5188 “very, very seriously.”
“We wouldn’t take this lightly,” he said.
Both bills were panned by wolf advocates Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest — whose comments can be found here — and a representative of Center For Biological Diversity.
In on-camera comments taken elsewhere in the Legislative building, Senator Kevin Ranker, the former Democratic chairman of the Senate’s natural resources committee, said, “I think some of the bills being heard today under this new Republican majority are setting us up for a circus.”
(He has his own wolf bill, SB 5300.)
WDFW’s Ware indicated the agency had no opinion on either bill while Davis at the Farm Bureau said they supported both.
“I don’t have time to ask a wolf to stop. I don’t have time to go to the department with the burden of proof,” added Columbia Basin cattleman Tyler Cox.
Cox said that he didn’t want payment for losses or to deal with wolves — he just wants to raise cattle for market.
He also indicated he didn’t particularly want to end up in front of Gary Chittim’s camera on the 5 o’oclock news, like the McIrvins at the Diamond M did last summer.
Read more of this story here