Govenor Inslee: Please Don’t Make Wolves’ Lives Harder
Conservation Northwest / Dec 08, 2023 / Wolves
By Paula Swedeen, Ph. D., Conservation Northwest Senior Policy Director
Washington has the best system in the western states for keeping wolves from getting killed for eating livestock. Yet several wolf advocate groups want to impose rules that could very likely result in more dead wolves. The Center for Biological Diversity, Washington Wildlife First, Western Watersheds and several others filed a petition in August with the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to convert the agency’s Wolf Livestock Interaction Protocol into formal regulations. We opposed the petition, as did WDFW staff and the Wolf Advisory Group. The Commission voted to reject it 6-3 on October 28.
The petitioner groups now have appealed to Governor Inslee to force the Commission to conduct rulemaking anyway. We are asking the Governor to allow the Commission’s decision to stand.
Turning Washington’s protocol into rule is a bad idea because the present system is working. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Washington has the highest rate of buy-in among ranchers to avoid conflict. We, therefore, have the lowest amount of livestock depredation and the fewest lethal removals of wolves of other states with abundant wolves. Washington’s results are far better than Oregon’s, which the petitioners hold up as their model because it has formal regulations.
Over the past three years (including 2023), Oregon has killed 27 wolves through lethal control for livestock depredations while Washington has had to remove only 10. Oregon has lethally removed 15 wolves this year alone compared to Washington’s two. Depending on this year’s final count, this could be between six and seven percent of their population.
The percentage of the wolf population lost to lethal control will likely be less than one percent this year and did not go above 3 percent over the past three years. Washington’s level of lethal removal has stayed low while the population has continued to increase (see slide 10 in this presentation), another strong indicator of success.
These numbers clearly demonstrate that the key factor to coexistence of minimal wolf mortality is not imposed regulations. The keys to Washington’s success are both investments in conflict deterrence and rancher participation in policy formulation, which results in their buy-in.
Montana, Wyoming and Idaho do not systematically invest in proactive deterrence. Montana has killed as many as 145 wolves in one year (2009) – which was 15 percent of the population at the time – and has removed an average of 50 wolves per year over the past three years for livestock conflict, which is 4 to 5 percent per year of their estimated population (see figure 12 in this report).
It is worth noting that these Rocky Mountain states kill many more wolves from licensed hunting and trapping. This is not the same as agency lethal control, but the overall level of killing in these states is unacceptable to us. One of the reasons we work so hard on reducing livestock depredations is to help build long-term acceptance of wolves in rural areas, so Washington can avoid ever resorting to that kind of management.
In their appeal, the petitioners obscure the numbers by counting wolves shot by ranchers while in the act of preying on livestock. We are open to changes in Washington’s caught-in-the-act policies if done through the right process. Our firmer position is against converting the lethal take protocol into a rule.
Washington has wisely invested millions of dollars in making proactive non-lethal tools available to ranchers. Conservation Northwest has raised and invested private money and devoted thousands of staff hours working with ranchers and range riders. We also have spent countless hours working through the state’s Wolf Advisory Group (a broad set of citizens and agency staff) and with legislators to ensure adequate funding and policy support.
Our experience convinces us that ranchers only buy into and commit to conflict deterrence if they have a fair role in decision-making and are provided with the necessary tools. A state-imposed rule takes the opposite approach, pushing the rancher voice outside the process.
A state rule would be a Pyrrhic victory for the petitioners. They would claim success, but on the ground, there would be more resentment, less conflict deterrence effort, and, worst of all, more dead wolves. We hope the Governor will side with the wolves and reject the appeal.