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Wolf funding eases conflict

Posted by dknowles at May 02, 2013 07:30 PM |

Last week was unusually eventful for wolves, bringing funding for essential non-lethal work and two other changes affecting wolf recovery. Over the weekend, the legislature passed SB 5193, which creates a vital, secure source of funds to pay for non-lethal measures to help prevent conflicts between wolves and livestock in the first place. That bill also includes provisions to help fund compensation to livestock owners for confirmed losses.

Wolf funding eases conflict

New wolf funding for non-lethal measures include tools like range riding, effective for decreasing wolf-livestock conflict. Photo from the Dawson Ranch, courtesy Inland Northwest Land Trust

Last week was a big one for wolves. The legislature passed a bill (SB 5193), which creates a vital, secure source of funds to pay for non-lethal measures like range riding to help prevent and reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock.

Funds for this essential work will come from an additional $10 added to the cost of a Washington vanity license plate (e.g. GRYWLF, hint-hint).  This simple change is expected to raise nearly $1 million/year without raising taxes.

This is great news for Washington’s wolves and ranchers in wolf country who want to use proven methods to reduce conflicts with large carnivores.

In a related but separate move, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission passed a resolution authorizing a temporary emergency rule to permit ranchers, farmers, and pet and livestock owners in federally delisted portions of the state to kill a wolf in the act of attacking their animals (east of the Okanogan River).

That resolution passed the commission unanimously, and WDFW Director Phil Anderson then adopted the rule. The emergency rule, which was requested in a letter from a group of Democrat and Republican legislators, expanded existing authority in the state wolf plan to allow such actions without a permit and for the protection of pets in addition to livestock. The rule was highlighted in the King5 story, below.

News also broke that the US Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to propose delisting most wolves throughout the lower 48 states. This move would strip federal protections for the few wolves in the Cascades, allowing lethal removal as described in the state plan and removing the high poaching penalties associated with the Endangered Species Act. Conservation Northwest is concerned that this could jeopardize wolf recovery.

Three big changes

Funding for conflict avoidance, temporary rule in eastern Washington, and plan to delist Cascades wolves: How will these three big changes affect wolf recovery and management in Washington?

Good question. For wolf recovery to be successful in Washington, Conservation Northwest believes it is essential to address both wildlife and human needs. Passage of funding for proven non-lethal efforts like range riders, fladry, livestock carcass removal, and other deterrents is a big win and absolutely essential to successfully implement the state’s wolf plan.

It’s widely believed that the important funding bill passed as part of a bi-partisan deal that also allowed the expanded caught-in-the-act rule (originally a centerpiece of SB 5187) to move forward. SB 5187 was a controversial bill failed that to move on its own due to contrasting value systems in the legislature. A recent debate between two senators perfectly displayed such differing views. Assuming a deal was struck in the legislature, the question remains for many whether it is good deal or a bad one for wolves.

Working together is vital

Conservation Northwest believes that the funding for non-lethal efforts is critical to the success of wolf recovery in Washington. We also believe in providing people affected the most by the return of wolves reasonable means to protect their pets and livestock.

Recovering wolves will inherently involve give and take for people on both side of the issue - and this week's action in the state legislature was a great example of that.

That said, we do have some concern about the wording of the emergency rule. Its broadly defined use of the word “attacking” could allow abuse. We’re urging the department to clarify the definition and tighten the rules up considerably when they propose a permanent version of the rule.

Based on experiences with wolves in the Rockies, it is likely that few (if any) wolves will actually be caught in the act of attacking and killed under the authority of the rule. This is one of the reasons why we didn’t oppose it. We do have some concern that the department’s rule--which applies wherever wolves are federally delisted in the state--could be used in the Cascades if federal delisting were to move forward this year.

Cascades wolves haven't yet established the populations found in northeast Washington and still need extra protections. Yet any federal delisting proposal that would affect the western half of Washington is unlikely to move forward quickly or without considerable public involvement and debate. Cascades wolves are unlikely to be affected by the caught-in-the-act rule in the near future.

Washington can be the state where we finally get beyond fighting over symbols, platforms, and positions and learn to coexist with wolves.

A secure funding source for non-lethal tools is absolutely critical for that to happen. So is finding middle ground and improving social tolerance for wolves in those areas most affected by wolf recovery. We have hope that the events of the past week will prove to be a positive step in the right direction towards making living with wolves in Washington possible.

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