When I called Steve Pozzanghera, Eastern Regional Director and Policy Lead on wolves in Washington State, he was still on vacation. I didn’t realize I had his cell number. I think it surprised him too because he admitted he was, “Trying to forget about the Wedge pack.”
What incited me to make the call was a statement made by his boss, Phil Anderson, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Agency (WDFW) director. Anderson is quoted this afternoon in the Spokesman Review as saying, “Directing the pack’s removal was a very difficult decision, both personally and professionally, but it was necessary to reset the stage for sustainable wolf recovery in this region. Now we will refocus our attention on working with livestock operators and conservation groups to aggressively promote the use of non-lethal tactics to avoid wolf-livestock conflict.”
What I wanted to know right away, and I knew I wouldn’t get Anderson on the phone, was how the agency was planning on doing things different to “avoid wolf-livestock conflict” in the future.
Pozzanghera explained that this is new territory for the department as well as for the McIrvins of Diamond M. But he said that the WDFW is planning on learning from other groups and individuals more about non-lethal measures, including modifying cattle behavior to reduce predations. One of these groups is the Mountain Livestock Cooperative, who has previously spent time in Washington on this issue. He did point out though, that the department cannot tell ranchers how to run their business. Much of the future for wolves in the Wedge still rests on the shoulders of the livestock industry, a fact I find very disconcerting.
When I asked what incentive ranchers had for making changes, since it is clear to many of us they can simply cry wolf and have an entire pack taken out, Pozzanghera told me that the Agency is looking into a contract program that will allow ranchers easier access to compensation funds if they agree to utilize specific non-lethal measures. There is only a limited amount of compensation money and the livestock operators who agree to the terms set by the WDFW will be allotted funds first.
He also said that the McIrvins are receiving a ton of public pressure. News of the Wedge pack controversy has traveled around the country, and although Pozzanghera wouldn’t say if the pressure is helping the wolf situation or not, he suggested that the McIrvins could not be immune to the calls and bad publicity they’ve received. I suggested that the WDFW has earned themselves a few decades of bad PR as well, and he agreed, saying this is a “Lose-lose proposition at this point.”
Especially for the wolves, in my humble opinion.
When I spoke with Bill McIrvin a few weeks ago he mentioned that the WDFW personnel had told him that non-lethal measures were useless on the Wedge due to the rugged terrain. I asked Pozzanghera about this statement and he denied that this was the message given to the ranchers. He said that certain tools could not be utilized, for example, one cannot put up fladgery on a 240,000 allotment, but that other measures could work and would be implemented in the future. In his words, “The best case scenario is that there will be a point in time when wolves returning to the Wedge will co-exist with cattle.”
Let’s hope so. But an even more successful scenario is one in which the ranchers agree to co-exist with the wolves.