Washington ranchers in wolf country should get GPS-collar data, rather than depend on state wildlife managers to tell them where dens are in the spring and early summer, a state Farm Bureau official said Tuesday at a meeting of Fish and Wildlife’s Wolf Advisory Group.
The organization’s director of government relations, Tom Davis, a member of the group, said he’s frustrated by the department’s long-standing policy of blacking out collar data until July 16, well after cattle are turned out on summer grazing pastures.
The department should trust ranchers to stay away from dens, he said.
“If you get a bad actor, you do something about the bad actor, but you don’t treat everyone like a bad actor, and that’s what they’re doing now,” Davis said in an interview.
Fish and Wildlife officials defended the black-out period. Wolf specialist Ben Maletzke said the department keeps ranchers informed about pack movements, including the location of stationary dens. “You don’t need daily conversations to tell them it’s in the same place,” he said.
The advisory group met by phone Tuesday and planned to meet again Wednesday to review wolf-related activities by the department. Davis used the opportunity to challenge the department’s black-out policy.
Ranchers should be able to check daily on wolf movements without waiting to be contacted by the department, he said.
“I still don’t understand why we’re not making it easier to get this information in the hands of the producers,” Davis said. “We won’t be comfortable until that data pipeline is opened up more, for the good our producers.”
The collars intermittently signal the location of a wolf, identifying dens in the spring and rendezvous sites in the summer, and giving an overall picture of a pack’s territory.
Fish and Wildlife had a collar on 28 wolves, or 22% of the state’s population, at some point in 2019.
After July 16, when pups have left dens and are more mobile, ranchers can have direct access to collar data if they sign an agreement to keep the information to themselves. The department has given no indication the policy will change this year.
“I think Tom’s right. The information should be put other there,” Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Scott Nielsen said in an interview. “They (Fish and Wildlife) may have some individual ranchers who are satisfied. I can tell you, I don’t know any of them.”
Bill McIrvin, a partner in the Diamond M Ranch in northeast Washington, said the family-owned operation isn’t getting information from the department about the whereabouts of wolves. “We are not, and we never have,” he said.
Diamond M was accused by a Washington State University professor in 2016 of provoking attacks on cattle by placing salt blocks near a den. WSU officials repudiated the comments, saying the claim had no basis in fact and that the ranch didn’t know where the den was when it released cattle.
McIrvin said knowing that the den was there could have saved the ranch “a lot of heartache.”
“We would not have put the salt there if we had known because we wouldn’t want to have held cows where the den site was,” he said.
Diamond M has not signed an agreement with Fish and Wildlife to get collar data after the black-out period. The agreement was too intrusive, McIrvin said.
He also said the collars allow Fish and Wildlife to name packs, focusing attention on the fate of packs rather than reducing conflicts in specific areas.
“Collars kind of keep everybody stirred up,” he said. “The wolves aren’t the problem, it’s the bureaucracy around the wolves that are the problem.”