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WA: WDFW to limit GPS data revealing whereabouts of wolves

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife outlines stricter policy on sharing data from GPS collars.

Don Jenkins
Capital Press

Washington wildlife managers will be less precise about the whereabouts of wolves, holding back information previously shared with ranchers, range-riders and local authorities, according to a policy outlined by the Department of Fish and Wildlife this week.

Fish and Wildlife says exact locations, drawn from wolves wearing radio collars, have been misused to disturb wolves. The more restrictive data-sharing policy comes as sheriffs in Stevens and Ferry counties have jointly deployed a deputy to watch wolves in northeast Washington.

“I think they resent that we have a wildlife specialist of our own,” Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen said Thursday.

“We’re not out there to manage their animals. We’re just tying to give our citizens the best information we can and try to help them prevent depredations,” he said. “We’re not advocating anybody go out and shoot wolves, which I think is what they’re concerned about.”

Fish and Wildlife collars wolves to track the growth and spread of packs, and prevent and investigate attacks on livestock. Some environmentalists call the collared animals “Judas wolves” because they give away packs that wildlife managers intend to cull.

The department does not make the collar data available to the public, but has shared it with registered users.

The department’s Eastern Washington director, Steve Pozzanghera, briefed Stevens County commissioners on the new policy July 2. Some people receiving collar data “have been visiting den and rendezvous sites,” according to a document Pozzanghera presented.

The department will continue to share the data with University of Washington researchers, but others will see maps of where wolves “have been, not where they are currently,” according to the document.

The maps are expected to be less specific than GPS coordinates. Allen said he saw an example that he described as a “big blue blob.”

Allen said he asked Fish and Wildlife for evidence that collar data was being misused. “They will not give me a single incidence,” he said.

Efforts to obtain comment from Fish and Wildlife on Thursday were unsuccessful.

The department routinely does not share collar data in the spring while pups are in dens. The black-out period this year was extended from June 1 to July 15. Stevens County rancher Arron Scotten said he hasn’t been getting the collar data, even though he has a range-rider contract with Fish and Wildlife.

If range-riders have only a general location of where wolves are clustering, they may have to search hundreds of forested acres for dead cattle, Scotten said. By then, scavengers will have devoured the evidence, he said.

The department won’t confirm wolf attacks unless enough flesh remains to see wolf bites. Holding back collar data will mean fewer confirmed depredations and more attacks on livestock before the department culls a pack, Scotten said.

“It’s just not right to change the bar on us every year,” Scotten said. “The true story of what’s happening on the ground isn’t being told.”

Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen, who was at the meeting between Pozzanghera and the commissioners, said range-riders need the collar data to be effective.

“A range-rider is just a guy riding around in the woods without the collar data,” Nielsen said. “Those collars are a pretty darn effective tool for ranchers, and they’re trying to take them away from us.”

Even if the department withholds locations from ranchers, it should provide the information to sheriffs, he said.