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WA: Washington lawmakers seek to shield wolf-plagued ranchers from threats

The Senate joins the House in passing a bill that stems from threats made to ranchers last summer as the state shot wolves

Don Jenkins
Capital Press

OLYMPIA — The Washington Senate and House have approved legislation to withhold records that name ranchers who report that wolves are attacking livestock or sign agreements to prevent depredations.

House Bill 1465 stems from threats ranchers and public employees received last summer as the Department of Fish and Wildlife shot wolves preying on cattle in the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington.

The region’s senator, Shelly Short, R-Addy, said she hoped holding back the identity of ranchers would encourage producers to work with WDFW.

“I don’t take lightly that this bill allows this information to be exempt from the Public Records Act,” she said. “What this bill doesn’t do is (prevent) folks from having access to department decisions.”

The Senate passed the bill 40-7 on Friday after making minor changes to a version the House passed last month.

Ranchers along with state and local officials reported being harassed and receiving death threats from people angry with the shooting of seven wolves in the Profanity Peak pack. No suspects were identified or arrested.

The bill originally proposed withholding records that would identify state wildlife managers or contractors connected with responding to depredations.

The original bill also would have allowed WDFW to withhold where wolves were attacking livestock, beyond citing the pack’s territory. Washington wolfpacks range over territories as large as 635 square miles, according to WDFW. The department now reports the township where attacks occur. Townships are normally 36 square miles.

The bill was narrowed to focus on withholding WDFW records that identify ranchers who report depredations or have signed agreements specifying how they will prevent conflicts between livestock and wolves. The agreements make ranchers eligible for state funding.

WDFW reported entering into 54 agreements with livestock producers in 2016 and spending $410,000 to help them guard their animals.

Some ranchers who work informally with WDFW to prevent depredations say they’re concerned that signing an agreement implies they’re satisfied with the state’s policy of encouraging wolves to recolonize the state.

WDFW estimates the state has at least 115 wolves and anticipates the population will grow by about one-third a year. Most wolves are in Ferry, Okanogan, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.

Short said lawmakers whose constituents support having a stable and widespread wolf population should back the bill.

“I believe this bill becomes an important tool to increase the willingness of folks who are dealing with recovering populations,” Short said. “It will encourage them to work more directly with the department.”