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.