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Washington wolf bills under discussion

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By Matthew Weaver
The Capital Press

"We certainly understand the anxiety that people feel they might face a crisis with a wolf and not have a permit in their pocket," said Conservation Northwest executive director Mitch Friedman. "Unless there's a record of someone trying to prevent a situation like that and having repeated encounters, we probably don't want people being able to shoot from the hip."

A Washington State House committee will take up a bill that would allow ranchers to kill wolves caught in the act of attacking pets or livestock.

Senate Bill 5187 would allow a rancher to kill a wolf caught in the act of attacking a domestic animal, including dogs, cats, cows, horses and pigs.

"Under current law, if my wife this evening was to go out and discover a wolf attacking one of our dogs, she would have to hold our children inside while the wolves ripped our pet to shreds," said Sen. John Smith, R-Colville. Current laws prohibit killing a wolf in such a scenario, he said.

The bill would not require a permit, Smith said.

Smith raises a dozen cattle on 20 acres and nearby grazing lands in the middle of the Smackout Wolf Pack territory and 10-15 miles from the Wedge Wolf Pack area.

"For me, this isn't just an interesting political topic," he said. "We're literally talking life and death for my family at home. We don't have a big operation. That makes even small losses significant to what we do."

Conservation Northwest executive director Mitch Friedman said the state's wolf management plan already addresses wolves caught preying on livestock, with a process for issuing a permit.

"We certainly understand the anxiety that people feel they might face a crisis with a wolf and not have a permit in their pocket," Friedman said. But he speculated that someone could also shoot a wolf and then claim it was attacking their livestock.

"Unless there's a record of someone trying to prevent a situation like that and having repeated encounters, we probably don't want people being able to shoot from the hip," Friedman said.

Critics have said a wolf attack is unlikely, Smith said. But he cites a March 10 incident in Twisp, Wash., where a wolf allegedly attacked a dog near its owner's front porch.

The state's 7th legislative district has two to three times the concentration of wolves that conservationists suggest, making wolf attacks seem even more probable, Smith said.

Smith said the bills received bipartisan support in the Senate. He believes there's a good chance they will progress through the House.

"In a time when the economy is shedding jobs, I think everybody can recognize we have a fundamental right to protect ourselves and our property," Smith said.

Senate Bill 5187 and Senate Bill 5193 were slated for hearings in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee this week.

SB5193 calls for using funds from the purchase of special license plates for state wolf management efforts or for indemnifying livestock losses due to wolves.

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