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WA: Washington ranching rivals agree on one thing: wolves

The Cattle Producers of Washington and Washington Cattlemen’s Association put aside differences for summit.


Don Jenkins
Capital Press

Two rival Washington cattlemen’s groups issued a joint communique Wednesday stating their shared discontent over wolves.

The statement from the Washington Cattlemen’s Association and Cattle Producers of Washington stemmed from a summit last month in Ellensburg. The Washington Farm Bureau also participated and sent out the announcement that agricultural organizations are “fed up with wolves.”

It was the first time the three groups have spoken as one on the subject.

“I thought we should all try to get on the same page,” Cattle Producers President Scott Nielsen said Wednesday. “I’m going to try to work much more closely with these other two groups.”

The Cattlemen’s Association and Cattle Producers are often on different sides of issues, such as the value of the beef commission and electronic identification of cattle. On wolves, the Cattle Producers has been the sterner critic of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. It dropped out of the department’s Wolf Advisory Group in 2015, while the Cattlemen’s Association and Farm Bureau have stayed on.

Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, was one of several legislators at the summit. “That meeting had the makings of ugly,” he said.

“What I saw that was impressive was that people sat down and said, ‘We have a situation with wolves, and we need a collaborative approach,’” Dent said. “I thought it was a major success.”

House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Brian Blake also went to the summit.

“I think it opened up some new communications between the cattle organizations about how important it is for them to find common ground,” said Blake, D-Aberdeen. “Anytime you have an industry with multiple organizations with different positions, it makes them less of a force in the overall discussions.”

The groups agreed that wolves in northeast Washington should be removed from the state’s endangered species list. They also said that counties should have more authority to manage wolves and that ranchers should get more information about the movement of wolves fitted with radio collars.

Efforts to reach the department for comment were unsuccessful.

Sarah Ryan, executive vice president of the Cattlemen’s Association, said the two groups have policy disagreements, but found common ground on wolves.

“It was kind of a big deal,” she said. “There’s going to be continuing collaboration on wolves.”

The Cattle Producers, the smaller group, has a higher profile in northeast Washington. That’s where the state’s wolves are concentrated and livestock losses are heaviest.

Nielsen said he wanted to tell ranchers about the severity of the problem for northeast cattlemen.

“I think they were stunned to hear what’s really going on,” he said. “I think that was highly successful.”

Wolves have far surpassed recovery goals in northeast Washington. Wolves will remain a state-protected species until they disperse into the North and South Cascades. Fish and Wildlife maintains statewide recovery is moving ahead and could come as soon as 2021. The department has documented little progress outside four northeast counties.

Blake said he is a “huge fan” of removing the wolves’ protected status in northeast Washington. He said that he hopes an upcoming search by the University of Washington with scat-sniffing dogs will show whether wolves are moving into the South Cascades.

“If we put the work into the South Cascades and don’t find wolves at all, that really calls into question whether the plan is meeting the time line,” he said.