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WA: Washington bill would mandate collaring wolves in ‘problem packs’

By Eli Francovich

A bill mandating radio collars on wolves in “problem packs” is making its way through the Washington Legislature this week.

Introduced by Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, House Bill 2906 goes before the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources on Friday.

The bill states that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife “must radio collar at least two wolves in every pack in conflict. The department is encouraged, but not required, to radio collar at least one wolf in every pack in the state that has been confirmed by the department.”

No additional funds would be dedicated to WDFW, although it does state that “the department must use existing department-owned collars.”

The bill has 11 co-sponsors.

Currently, 14 wolves in eight packs are collared, according to WDFW. A minimum of 126 wolves, 27 packs and 15 breeding pairs were counted last year by biologists.

WDFW’s lethal removal policy allows killing wolves if they prey on livestock three times in a 30-day period or four times in a 10-month period and if two nonlethal deterrents have already been deployed.

During a televised hearing with the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, Kretz said the collars would help range riders and ranchers know where wolves are. More collars would also allow WDFW to target wolves that killed cattle.

“We cannot ignore these chronic problems and expect to have any public acceptance of a wolf recovery program,” he said.

Kretz added: “We’re willing to live with wolves. We’ll do our best, but we have to have a partner in the department that’s doing their best and I don’t think we’re seeing that.”

WDFW is supportive of the idea, said Donny Martorello, WDFW’s wolf policy lead. However, as currently written it would be impossible to meet the requirements.

“As much as we agree it’s a priority, having it as a requirement sets us up for failure and the public for even more frustration,” Martorello said during Tuesday’s hearing.

He asked that the bill make collaring two wolves a priority, not a requirement. Collaring wildlife, particularly wolves, is extremely difficult, he said.

“There is no guarantee,” he said. “Particularly with wolves. They are very, very smart and intelligent.”

The Washington Cattleman’s Association supports the bill.

Conservation Northwest remained neutral on the legislation.

The Spokane-based Lands Council, the Kettle Range Conservation group, the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups sent a letter in opposition to the proposed legislation Monday.

The groups reiterated the difficulty of collaring wolves, in addition to the potential danger to the wolves. They also argued it would shunt limited resources from nonlethal efforts. Instead, they said, the state should invest in “the complete and correct application of range riding and/or guard animals.”

“There are a lot of problems with that bill. It’s an unfunded mandate,” said Chris Bachman, wildlife program director for the Lands Council.

He added, “It’s not aiding recovery. We’ve been jokingly calling it the Judas wolf bill.”

Federal legislation also introduced

In other wolf-related legislation, congressman Adam Smith, D-Wash., last week introduced federal legislation that would allow for the voluntary retirement of grazing permits on federal lands.

“Livestock grazing on federal public lands can lead to conflicts with other multiple uses that can have impacts on wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities,” a news release from the congressman states. “In many cases, simply removing livestock is the best solution to reduce or resolve these conflicts. However, current law and regulations either do not allow for the retirement of grazing permits or make the process unnecessarily difficult and uncertain.”

Similar bills have been tried in the past, and have been mostly met with opposition from ranchers and others. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said she does not support the proposed legislation.

“Grazing on federal land is a necessary tool for the federal government and private ranchers and is an important part of many ecosystems,” she said through a spokesman. “While we must ensure this relationship is mutual and encourage the responsible use of public lands, I don’t believe this tool should be removed from the next generation of cattlemen by restricting the future use of public land for grazing. This bill is an attempt to end grazing on public land altogether, and that isn’t something I can support.”