By MATTHEW WEAVER
COLVILLE, Wash. — Passions ran high in northeast Washington Wednesday as ranchers asked state wildlife officials why they’d put wolves ahead of their livelihoods.
“Why are these wolves so special and what do they do that is so great that we have to have them?” asked Bud Sampson, a retired farmer in the Hunters, Wash., area. “If you could tell me one thing they do good except cost us millions of dollars, run down all of our game animals and get rid of them. … You people don’t have the foggiest clue how to manage these wolves, and it’s been proven.”
He was among roughly 300 people attending the second of a series of meetings put on by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to address wolf-livestock conflicts. The department holds another meeting in Okanogan, Wash., Feb. 28 and is planning to address wolf impacts on ungulates in late March.
Department game division manager Dave Ware and department carnivore section manager Donny Martorello said the wolves have value, helping to cut down on other predators, particularly smaller predators like coyotes.
“They can have a tremendous impact on the overall ecosystem,” Ware said.
“In terms of what they do, it’s intangible stuff, it’s hard to pin down in a meeting like this, but there is a value to it,” Martorello said.
Many of the ranchers in attendance expressed their frustration over the situation, which has mirrored the rapid wolf population increases in states like Idaho and Montana. Several voiced concern that the government was violating their rights as citizens by mandating the wolves’ presence.
“It took an act of Congress to get them here, and it would likely take an act of Congress to get remove them,” Martorello told the audience.
“Where’s the line in the sand?” asked another member of the audience. “Do they have to attack my kids? When do I get to shoot the wolf?”
“I can’t believe the insanity of putting people at risk for shooting an animal that’s killing their animals,” said Terry Foster of Colville.
“If personal safety is at stake, shoot a wolf,” Ware said.
When personal property is at risk, the answer is different, he said. Ware said ranchers need to obtain a permit to kill a wolf caught in the act of preying on livestock.
Diamond M Ranch owner Len McIrvin, who lost many cattle to wolves near Laurier, Wash., last summer, expressed concern that he and other ranchers would be run out of business if the problem continues.
“We’re not going to let that happen,” Martorello said. “We’re going to act much sooner.”
He said the department is working to get legislators and the public to understand that killing wolves is part of wolf management, particularly when wolves shift from natural prey to livestock.