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Washington Cattlemen's Association response to statement by Conservation Northwest regarding WDFW control efforts on the Huckleberry Wolf Pack


Ellensburg, WA

September 10, 2014


The Washington Cattlemen's Association (WCA) would like to set the record straight in regards to the recent editorial that Mr. Mitch Friedman, Executive Director at Conservation Northwest, released regarding control efforts that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recently conducted on the chronically depredating Huckleberry Wolf Pack.


The WCA is disappointed that Mr. Friedman appears to have taken this recent control action as an opportunity to second guess the decisions that the WDFW and the livestock producer made leading up to the depredations and following them.  


The WCA has been involved in the WDFW Wolf Advisory Group (WAG) just as Conservation Northwest has been since its inception following the adoption of the WDFW Wolf Recovery Plan by the WDFW Commission. The WCA vehemently disagreed with the recovery objectives of the Wolf Plan (15 successful breeding pairs for 3 consecutive years) and it is important to understand that we are in the early stages of wolf recovery in a prey rich environment and problems will only escalate into the future. While the use of preventative measures might be working today, it is a proven fact that problem wolves will need to be removed in the future.


The WAG has discussed the WDFW's decision tree on when lethal actions to remove problem wolves would occur at great length during several meetings. It is important that we all understand that lethal removal is a proven component to successful wolf recovery.


The WCA is very disappointed to see the petty actions that Mr. Friedman has taken in regards to whether or not livestock producers have cooperative agreements or not. The WCA has worked with cattlemen on a VOLUNTARY basis to enter into cooperative agreements with the understanding that these cooperative agreements would be one option amongst many that would help ranchers deal with wolf recovery. It is important to remember that nowhere in the WDFW Wolf Recovery Plan is there any requirement that ranchers must have agreements with the WDFW prior to decisions being made to lethally remove problem wolves. It also important to note, the Wolf Recovery Plan does not require removing livestock from private lands or agency lands!


The WCA remains committed to maintaining the economic viability of ranchers while dealing with wildlife conflict.



Below is the statement from Conservation Northwest




What happened last month with the Huckleberry Wolf Pack and a band of sheep near Hunters was not good for anybody. The operator lost several dozen sheep and a lot of time and money. And now, with the death of its female leader, the future behavior of the Huckleberry Pack - which had been thriving in that area without any livestock conflict for several years - is much harder to predict.


Minimizing the risk of conflict between livestock and wolves is not only best for everyone; it's the policy of the state due to bipartisan legislation. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is able to assist ranchers with conflict avoidance assets and on-the-ground resources through direct and stable funding from the sale of personalized license plates.


Conflict avoidance tactics like range riders aren't a cure-all, but they can work well when undertaken with diligence. I know this because Conservation Northwest is involved in five such projects in eastern Washington, using private funds and staff to help ranchers live and prosper among our state's wolf packs. Our contracts currently fund and guide range riders who oversee livestock sharing range with wolves from Teanaway near Cle Elum to Smackout up by Ione.


This is our third summer supporting range riders, with a total of nine project seasons. And with our assistance these ranchers and their range riders have yet to lose any livestock or wolves to conflict. The range riders have learned a ton, including respect and curiosity for wolves. Our ranch partners have been pleased with the weight gains that regular and thorough supervision have brought their cattle. And the Forest Service has been pleased with resulting range conditions.


The Washington Cattlemen's Association encourages it members to engage in cooperative agreements with WDFW and others to reduce the risk of predator conflict. But other ranching interests oppose them. Before this grazing season started, the rancher whose sheep got mixed up with the Huckleberry Pack was offered cooperative agreements and conflict avoidance resources from both WDFW and Washington State University, but he declined.


Since mid-August, the state has had to spend tens of thousands of precious taxpayer dollars providing riders, helicopter sharpshooters, and other assets to reduce conflict in the Huckleberry area. All of that occurred after the wolves had been preying on sheep for several weeks, during which time the rancher thought he had a cougar problem. It's not easy to put toothpaste back in a tube or to unteach wolves to eat sheep.


We can't fully understand this episode without knowing what happened prior to WDFW's arrival in mid-August: Was it enough for the rancher to have a single herder and four dogs with these 1,800 sheep in rough terrain? While that amount of herd attention is lawful, more early effort might have prevented so much loss, cost and drama.


In its editorial last week, the Statesman asks why the state didn't share radio collar location data with the rancher during the early season. Since wolves are state protected as an endangered species, the sharing of their locations is rightly a sensitive matter. The state generally only shares collar location data with ranchers who have signed a cooperative agreement that reasonably guides the use of that information and other aspects of conflict avoidance work. This operator could have had that location data and other resources if he, like many other ranchers, had accepted the cooperative agreement offered to him.


Having collar location data might not have changed much. The rancher was already well aware of the general location of the Huckleberry Pack, which was known to have denned nearby each of the past three years. It's also likely the wolves howled and left other signs of their presence that alert herders might have noticed.


Adjusting to the new presence of wolves in Washington is a challenge. But they are here to stay, with a large majority of the state's citizens supporting their healthy recovery. Like all wildlife, wolves are a resource belonging to the people of the state even when they are on private property. It's important to also note that new WDFW disclosures show most of the sheep depredations actually occurred on public Department of Natural Resources land, outside the boundaries of the rancher's allotment. (I was able to edit an update into this last sentence for three of the papers, but not in time for Colville Statesman. The edited version is, It's important to also note that new WDFW disclosures show most of the sheep depredations actually occurred on public Department of Natural Resources land, outside the boundaries of the rancher's leased private land.)


The goal for all of us is to find ways to coexist, so we can have healthy wolves and wild ecosystems right along with successful ranches and healthy agricultural production. That goal is achievable in our region, but will take people working diligently together to see it realized. Conservation Northwest wants to help.




The Washington Cattlemen's Association is a statewide non-profit trade organization dedicated to promoting and preserving the beef industry through producer and consumer education, legislative participation, regulatory scrutiny, and legal intervention.

To provide a unified voice for beef producers; promote innovative rangeland and livestock management; protect and preserve the cattle industry in the state of Washington.
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