Serving Franklin County, WA

New recourse against wolves

There are at least 216 gray wolves in 37 packs in our state. Thirty-one of those gray wolf packs are in North-Central and Northeastern Washington.

Senate Bill 5939 – relating to protecting livestock from wolf predation – seeks to give affected livestock raisers a chance to mitigate the confirmed and probable predation deaths of their animals. The bill would allow owners of livestock to monitor a depredation and kill the first gray wolf that returns.

The bill lays out the livestock protection plan as a 3-year pilot with a report due to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2027. The compromise offered by the bill allows ranchers to protect their herds while exploring the potential deterrent of culling wolves habituated to hunt livestock.

The bill also allows for a quicker response to livestock predation.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s current rules are lengthy and include three confirmed predations in 30 days or four in a 10-month period. Once the threshold has been met, the department can issue remove 1-2 wolves and, generally, allow only a two-week period for doing so.

By empowering livestock owners to monitor kill sites for wolf activity after a predation, the bill removes the bureaucracy and places trust in the people directly affected by predations. Ranchers have 24 hours to contact the department after a wolf has been shot at a kill site.

In 2022, there were 18 confirmed wolf predations in the state.

Only nine wolves were killed. Six wolves were lethally removed by Fish and Wildlife after confirmed predations and three were killed when “caught-in-the-act.”

The reporting window and the trust placed in Washington state’s ranching community should curb any potential desire to poach wolves in areas still protected by the state or federal government.

The culling of gray wolves habituated to hunting livestock rather than game also works well with an incremental rolling out of local management practices. The wolf population has thrived and continued to grow since 2007.

Given the number of gray wolves in the state, it is past time to consider how to create local management structures.

By encouraging ranchers to participate as part of the solution to wolf predations, the proposal may foster open communication between ranchers and state staff. Furthermore, giving ranchers authority to make decisions about how to care for their livestock also helps develop trust in agency staff.

As the gray wolf population grows and predations of livestock continue, it is paramount for the state to begin choosing more flexible approaches to predator management.

— Pam Lewison is the Center for Agriculture director at the Washington Policy Center. Email her at [email protected].


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