Personal tools
You are here: Home News Scat! Our blog Finding the middle way
Document Actions
  • Email this page
  • Print this
  • Bookmark and Share

Finding the middle way

Posted by Mitch Friedman at Jun 28, 2013 06:35 PM |

Today, Olympia finally passed an operating budget to avert a government shutdown in the nick of time. The legislature remains in session to deal with transportation and capital budget issues, including important habitat acquisition funds. The budget includes over a million dollars to identify and promote non-lethal methods to reduce conflicts between livestock and predators like wolves. This happened because legislators from both sides of the state came together around a solution that Conservation Northwest modeled and promoted.

Finding the middle way

The harder part of Washington learning to wolves may come from the human side of the balance, but new ways forward in Olympia this year help us learn to coexist. Photo: Getty Images

Today, Olympia finally passed an operating budget to avert a government shutdown in the nick of time. The legislature remains in session to deal with transportation and capital budget issues, including important habitat acquisition funds.

The budget includes over a million dollars to identify and promote non-lethal methods to reduce conflicts between livestock and predators like wolves. This happened because legislators from both sides of the state came together around a solution that Conservation Northwest modeled and promoted.

Much of the legislative session was marred by acrimonious gridlock over wolves. The deadlock broke when a bipartisan group of legislators negotiated and then sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Commission pressing for an emergency rule to allow a person to shoot a wolf caught attacking livestock. The Fish and Wildlife Department’s director, Phil Anderson, responded by adopting such a rule, and the commission initiated a process for reaching a long term rule.

With that impasse resolved, the legislature was able to pass SB 5193 to spur wolf conflict avoidance efforts funded by adding $10 to the cost of a vanity license plate.

Tensions between viewpoints

Tensions over wolves rose last summer when the Wedge Pack, in northern Stevens County, preyed on calves belonging to one of the state’s most vocally conservative ranch families. The Department of Fish and Wildlife ultimately killed the pack. The debacle outraged wolf advocates and opponents in equal but opposite ways, contributing to a polarized atmosphere that isn’t generally good for wolves.

Change is hard enough without the rich and contrasting lore of the big bad wolf. Many residents in recent wolf country are bristling. Public meetings overflow with angry crowds and elected officials amplify the outrage. Moreover, many people in northeastern Washington live on a shoestring budget and close to the land, and they reasonably wonder about the impact wolves will have on economic mainstays like ranching and hunting. A recent debate between two senators on TVW [starts around the 29 min. mark] perfectly displayed the contrasting value systems.

Meanwhile conservationists and wildlife lovers, such as myself, couldn’t be more thrilled at the return of the wolf. Polls show that three out of every four Washingtonians share my enthusiasm. But most of us live on the urbanized westside, far from the action. In northeastern Washington, where three-quarters of the state’s dozen or so packs are found, folks are more restless.

Fortunately there’s a middle path that allows healthy rural communities and a robust wolf population to co-exist. With earnest and innovative effort, conflict can be minimized.

The quiet success

As the tragedy of the Wedge Pack played out, a quiet success story unfolded with the Smackout Pack just to the east. The Dawson family of Colville, was hardly thrilled by the presence and hassles of wolves, but nonetheless understood it as a new normal they must adapt to. The Dawsons partnered with Conservation Northwest and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to adopt a set of tools beyond guns, such as hiring a range rider to keep a close eye on their cattle and to haze wolves when necessary. The tactics worked, preventing any dead cows or wolves. A long record of similar success has been demonstrated in parts of Montana and Alberta. This summer Conservation Northwest is sponsoring three range riders across eastern Washington.

Washington Cattlemen’s Association is encouraging its members to follow this approach, and about 20 ranchers have signed state agreements to do so. Funding to back those agreements is now provided through the license plate fees in SB 5193 and the budget bill just passed.

But even with the best effort, wolves will occasionally prey on domestic animals. Washington’s Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan provides for a last resort of lethal removal in those situations. The plan also provides that under some circumstances a rancher can get a permit to shoot a wolf caught in the act of depredation. Of the multitude  hostile wolf bills that Olympia considered this session, the biggest push came for SB 5187, allowing one to shoot a depredating wolf without a permit. The result was the aforementioned bipartisan letter, pushing the action across the street to the Fish and Wildlife Department.

I have a concern with the rule adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Department: Its definition of an attacking wolf is too broad and could lead to abuse. Conservation Northwest is seeking an adjustment in the long term rule. Our wolf program director, Derrick Knowles, is well positioned for such changes through his seat on the department’s wolf advisory group.

But I’m generally open to the core idea if its use is limited to northeastern Washington, where wolves are abundant enough to be considered virtually recovered. If we expect ranchers and rural communities to put meaningful effort into co-existing with wolves, it’s fair that such people should feel some sense of control in the unlikely but traumatic instance of witnessing an attack on an animal to which they have an attachment.

That poll that showed widespread public support for wolves in Washington also found broad support for the contingency of lethal removal. Our state finds solutions through its blend of progressive and pragmatic sensibilities.

Beyond symbols

Washington can get beyond fighting over symbols and learn to co-exist with wolves. This species is fortunately adaptive, resilient, and fecund, meaning that the harder part may be on the human side of the equation. Yes, we should expect social tolerance for wolves. But we should also display it for the people who live and work where wolves roam. While the experience was bruising, the outcomes from Olympia this session wisely advance those dual principles.

 

Document Actions
powered by Plone | site by Groundwire Consulting and served with clean energy