Washington Fish and Wildlife Agenda

I was a few minutes late so I sat in the back for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) meeting entitled “2012 Wolf Plan Implementation Activities.” One thing was  apparent, the WDFW was impeccably prepared. For three and a half hours they “briefed” the ten members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission and the hundred or so people in the audience. I felt I was at a trial and the department had prepared and was delivering their own defense. And no wonder, the WDFW is in the middle, smashed between a community of livestock producers who wanted the Wedge pack taken out long ago, and a large  number of conservation minded citizens who believe the extermination of the pack could have been prevented.

I was most interested in was how things were going to be different in the future, but I didn’t hear much about this. The presentation went into finite detail on the history of wolves in Washington, the location and number of packs, a natural history lesson on the colors of wolves, their social structure, dispersal habits, territory size, etc. We learned a ton about the development and implementation of the wolf plan and how it was, in the minds of the WDFW, correctly used to eliminate the Wedge pack.  Much time of course, was spent on the wolf-livestock issue, including details of the investigation process. We were told that 80 to 90 percent of livestock kills were not found, meaning predation statistics are way low. This is a statistic I have not heard before and I find very difficult to believe.

The public comments made the meeting not only more interesting but also more focused on the future. Most speakers had intelligent and relevant statements to share. People were reasonable and stuck to facts. The speaker who stood out like a sore thumb was Senator Bob Morton, a District 7 Republican and long-time rancher. He told the story of his tearful wife calling him and saying he had to chose the Legislature or the cattle, because of the damage wolves were doing to their cows. Morton said he had considered buying a non-resident hunting license in Canada and standing at the border and blowing away the wolves.  He then begged the Commission to consider “Who is number one, us or the wolves?” It was a narrow minded, one-sided cheer. I heard not a word of equity from this elected official, only a self-centered speech requesting that the environment be controlled for the ease of his existence.

The majority of the speakers came the left side of the room (segregation is a way of life when wolves are involved) and these folks asked for more accountability on the part of the WDFW and the ranchers. They asked that specific and extensive non-lethal measures were required before wolves were lethally removed. Several believed the agenda of the department was serving the livestock community and not the overwhelming majority (75% of Washington citizens) who want wolves in the landscape. Someone suggested the department had been bullied by ranchers into killing the Wedge pack.

Shelly Bristow of Project Alpha Wolf brought up the pertinent subject of public land use, one not discussed during the extensive briefing. Dave Hornoff of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition reminded the WDFW that their mission statement says they are “dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife…” Mitch Freeman of Conservation NW spoke to make clear that his organization’s standing is not for the lethal removal of wolves and that the death of the Wedge pack was tragic and could have been prevented.

Up front on the right side of the room was a young teenager wearing jeans, a suit jacket and a red tie. His blond hair was topped off with a cap. He was surrounded by the Stetson crowd, one who I assumed was his father. When a blond fourteen year old girl took her turn at the microphone and told the Commission that she was dedicated to wolves and planned on studying them her whole life, the young man watched her. The difference in culture and upbringing is such a force in this conflict. Two kids, about the same age, but two such variant positions.

After the meeting was finally over I caught up with Bill McIrvin of the Diamond M Ranch. I introduced myself as the woman who had interviewed him over the phone recently. He smiled and put out his hand. Bill had received quite a lambasting during the public comments and he looked a little shook up. I asked him if he had any thoughts of how to prevent problems with wolves in the future. He said he wasn’t talking much about that now but that he was worried because he expected wolves back in the Wedge within a year. Don’t give up, I said to him, there has to be a solution.

Whatever solution there may be to mitigate future conflicts between wolves and cattle in the Wedge was not made clear during this long afternoon in the Washington State Capital Building.  Ranchers are experts in livestock, not preventing problems between wolves and cattle, especially in an area where wolves are just returning. It seems clear that the Fish and Wildlife Department of Washington, as an agency that serves the state’s wildlife and the desires of the public, needs to take a stronger role in researching solutions and educating livestock producers of their findings. For the welfare of all, let’s hope some solutions are found before wolves return to the Wedge.

Steve Bentjen, Shelly Bristow, Dale Bristow and Jesse Taylor at the Washington State Capital Building. Photo by Brett Haverstick

14 thoughts on “Washington Fish and Wildlife Agenda

  1. I watched it online yesterday/last night, Beckie. WDFW repeated much of the same stuff they said in various news reports. But that ONE WDFW member, last name Jennings…wow. He is the one who broke down during his statements to WDFW. That took guts! It was sooo nice to hear from the young girl. That also took guts. I still have no sympathy for Mr. McIrvin, especially when he has Rep. Morton, the sheriff, Cattleman’s Assoc.’s and the Farm Bureau behind him and calling for delisting. It was a respectful move on his part though to be so open with you. Good for you for approaching him. The wolves in WA are in big trouble if nothing is done about grazing leases and public lands use. Ranchers MUST be made accountable, too! Body conditions of two of the wolves that were examined during the necropsies were categorized as thin-good. Most were good….except for that poor pup that was too badly decomposed. Getting fat from eating his cows? Hardly. I hope WDFW takes a serious, honest look at themselves and how they conduct their business. They have a lot to fix. Thanks for these articles, Beckie. Keep ’em coming.

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    • Hi Kristi, thanks so much for reading and commenting on this. The guy you mentioned impressed me too. He was David Jennings, a member of the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Sounds like someone who has his heart in the right place. We need more of that.
      I agree completely, ranchers need to be made more accountable. The WDFW plan that allots compensation funds first to those ranchers who agree to implement more non-lethals is a good idea.
      The McIrvin situation is interesting. The one I’ve spoken with is the younger of the two ranchers. HIs dad, Len, is the one how has made some very inflammatory statements. While the two no doubt stand side by side, I get the distinct impression (and WDFW folks have agreed with me on this) that Bill is more open to change than his papa. Time will tell…

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  2. When wolves again disperse into NE Washington and our public lands then, the McIrvins will whine and those sacred animals will be annihilated as well. The writing is on the wall in Washington, and the stench of corruption pervades all (like paying off Conservation NW to support the slaughtering of the Wedge Pack). Let’s hope Senator Ranker’s investigation exposes this fiasco and some WAFW people lose their jobs and pensions. And what was with Irma Geuse of the SS at the meeting’s opening trying to intimidate American citizens by branding us as terrorists and threatening us with Secret Police and guns…Straight out of the Goebbels handbook. Seig Heil.

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    • Where is the scientific evidence that this pack was killing cattle? Science doesn’t lie. If most of the remains are gone than you can’t tell with certainty who killed the cattle. They should have removed one wolf lethally and did a forensic examination of the stomach contents…Am I right in assuming tht there were no cattle remains in any of the wolves stomach”s?

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    • Thanks for your comments, Raven. I certainly hope to hear more from Senator Rankin on the Wedge issue. He is in the position to pack some much needed punches on the behalf of wolves. Would have been great if he had been at the meeting.
      The opening remarks were made (correct me folks if I’m wrong here) by Miranda Wecker, chair of the Commission. I noticed that she was impartial to the comments made by the public except to Senator Morton. To his extremely biased words she piped in, “Well said, Senator.”

      And William, good point. I believe someone asked this same question at the meeting. I do not recall there being an answer.

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  3. Beckie, I was not able to take leave yesterday to attend the meeting, but I viewed the archives early today. I, too, found that many of the speakers were articulate and well-informed. I believed that the pro-ranchers’ message was redundant: thanks for killing the wolves and please delist them (so more can be killed?). I am concerned by the fact that the elimination of the Wedge Pack was done in order to placate the vocal minority. 75% of my peers in Washington support wolf recovery. However, the commission’s main concern appears to be to appease the ranching community. This whole issue is obviously very political, but it all “boils down” to the issue of grazing on public lands and being responsible users of our environment. The McIrvins have been grazing on public lands with little to no supervision of their cattle, and have refused to collaborate with WDFW in implementing non-lethal methods of control of wolves. I am not surprised that they have suffered depredation,but I am extremely disappointed in the WDFW for caving in to the McIrvins’demands, thus erroding our Wolf Management Plan. I am fearful for what will transpire when the next pack moves in to the Wedge; will the WDFW again acquiesce to the McIrvins’ insistence that this pack be killed? The majority of us in Washington want wolves, not cows in our forests.

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    • Hello Terra, The public lands use issue is huge here, and I’m glad Shelly Bristow and others brought this up in the public testimony.
      As far as the idea of regional delisting, I’m not too concerned about this, although probably should be because as recent events show, things can change quickly. But it was explained to me by Madonna Luers of the WDFW that changing the wolf plan to hasten delisting would be virtually impossible. The complex plan requires (hope I got these facts right) that there be three breeding pairs for three consecutive years in each of the three recovery areas and three at large. Wow that’s a lot of threes! And, Madonna said, the recovery must be statewide, not regional. So even if the livestock producers get in a huddle before each and every public hearing and agree to ask for “regional delisting,” it’s probably not going to happen.

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  4. McIrvin has no business of grazing his cattle
    on public lands nor in the national forests in the first place!
    He should pack up his wild-west felgercarb,
    sell the ranch, and get his greedy, self-centered, stuck-up arse
    out of WA and go settle elsewhere (such as Texas)…

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    • More people going vegetarian or vegan would certainly help alleviate this, as well as many other problems. My younger brother, Bruce Elgin and his family have been devout vegans for years and are some of the healthiest, happiest people I know. They grow much of their own food, cook delicious meals, and in doing so, greatly decrease their impact on the earth. I’m about 80% there. I applaud you and others for giving up meat and animal products.

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  5. Really enjoyed reading your article. I am a wolf advocate and worked with a wolf rescue locally. I just hope that people remember that HR 3432 has been sitting on the US Floor since 2011. This bill would revoke those permits for public grazing.

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  6. Regarding HR 3432—-check out REVA (Rural Revitalization Act) on FB. There are 16 sponsors for this bill. I wrote to my US senators last week and asked them to sponsor this bill. EVERYONE should write/call their US senators or reps and ask them to sponsor this bill and to pass it. This would be HUGE for the wolves and for the land.
    Also, William, haven’t seen anything anywhere regarding stomach contents, only the weights, sex, body condition of the wolves. Maybe this was a preliminary report, but someone should be able to get the results, if they were made note of.

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