Nov. 11, 2009
By Joyce Campbell
The state wildlife department’s wolf planning team may have bitten off more than it can chew.
More than a hundred cattlemen, hunters, county and state elected officials and other citizens gathered to inform and be informed about the state’s draft wolf management and conservation plan at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds Agriplex on Tuesday evening (Nov. 9).
The civic-minded crowd applauded each other, groaned, mumbled, cheered and laughed, but not in unison. Eighteen people commented on the record and many more had questions.
People came armed with numbers, notes, personal anecdotes and a slate of statements, complaints and questions. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife brought informational handouts, CDs of the draft plan, equipment for recording public comments on the plan, and Harriet Allen, endangered species program manager for WDFW and lead presenter at the public meeting.
Okanogan County commissioners Mary Lou Peterson and Bud Hover shared the concern that state and federal agencies had not consulted with Okanogan County about the wolf recovery plan.
“Okanogan County deserves more than just commenting,” said Hover. “We should have been in on the ground floor.”
There was considerable suspicion among many attendees about how the wolves came to be in the Methow Valley. Larry Campbell wanted proof that the Lookout Pack was not transplanted and requested the use of unbiased DNA testing and lie detector tests, a comment that drew applause from all corners of the room.
Commissioner Mary Lou Peterson asked three times if the agency has collaborated or cooperated in any way with the Canadian government to move wolves to Washington state.
Some were concerned that the wolves would spread “pretty fast” and the department should seriously consider more aggressive means to keep them in check.
Hunters were concerned about the impact of wolves on game animals like deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep. “There’s no stopping them. We need a plan to hunt wolves and protect wildlife,” said a man who identified himself as an outdoorsman and hunter.
“Wolves could become a game species and could be hunted. The potential is there, but it’s not part of this plan,” said Allen. “It would be up to the department commissioners.”
“Wolves,” said commissioner Hover, “would threaten the mule deer population, which is a huge economic generator for Okanogan County.” Another man said the department should reintroduce elk and “ease some of the pain of losing the deer.”
Cattlemen were concerned about the disproportionate cost laid on the landowners and livestock owners. There’s the cost and loss of an animal, time spent proving the kill, time spent with non-lethal methods and then the compensation funding runs out, said rancher and hunter Dave McClure.
“I don’t believe the damage should go unnoticed,” said Jay Kehne, Conservation Northwest outreach coordinator in Okanogan County and a supporter of the plan’s Alternative Three as a better alternative for recov
ery. “Economics are important and people most affected should have the most compensation.”
“We’ve already lost so much wildlife, it’s nice to see wolves coming back,” said Carlton-area resident Wendy Snook. She has seen wolf tracks bigger than her Great Pyrenees’ tracks near her home. She credited her stock dogs with keeping her livestock safe from predators.
After the comment period, Allen fielded questions as the crowd passed a microphone around the room.
How would wolf recovery be funded? Currently the program to monitor wolves is funded from federal wildlife grants and other non-game resources, said Allen. Potential funding sources would include the state legislature and other agencies. Allen said the department wants ideas from the public. Someone at an earlier meeting offered to pay a $50 wildlife fee, similar to a hunting fee, to support wolf recovery.
How would they keep count of the wolves until reaching the goal of 15 breeding pairs? Radio-collaring pack members and tracking them by radio and monitoring for pups, said Allen.
The Indian tribes were never brought into the conversation, said Daryl Asmussen, an Okanogan area cattle rancher who served more than two years on the state’s Working Wolf Group to develop the draft plan. “We can’t have a plan without them.” Allen responded that some tribes are participating in discussions with an interagency group on a government-to-government basis, rather than through the Working Wolf Group.
The comment period on the draft wolf plan is open until Jan. 8, 2010. The public is invited to review the draft plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement online at www.wdfw.wa.gov/wildlife/management/gray_wolf/mgmt_plan.html or at local libraries. Written comments must be submitted by 5 p.m. Jan 8 online or mailed to WDFW SEPA Desk, 600 Capital Way N. Olympia, WA 98501-1091.