I attended the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf hearing last week to find out how far the WDFW ultimately plans to go with wolf hunting, once wolves are inevitably removed from the state endangered species list, and when Washington residents can expect to hear that hunting groups are holding contest hunts on wolves like our neighbors in Idaho have already done.
It turns out the department wasn’t ready to come clean on their ultimate plans to implement hunting seasons on wolves (starting in Eastern Washington). They were only willing to talk about the few cases of sheep predation (a few dozen out of a flock of 1,800 animals grazing on public forest land), and the WDFW’s collusion with areal snipers from the federal Wildlife “Services” for some good old fashioned lethal removal. Here are some notes on what I was planning to say, had it been on topic:
Over the years spent living in rural Eastern Washington, I’ve gotten to know how ranchers think and feel, and what they’re capable of. For over twenty years I lived in a cabin outside the Okanogan County town of Twisp, where rancher/convicted poacher Bill White is currently under house arrest. Exploiting his then-good standing and local influence to get permission from the WDFW to gather road-killed deer, under the guise of distributing them as meat to members of the Colville tribe, he used some of the deer as bait to lure wolves from the Lookout pack to within shooting distance. He and his son are credited with killing nearly every member of that pack—the first wolves to make it back into Washington. Their sense of entitlement was so overblown they thought they could get away with sending a blood-dripping wolf hide across the Canadian border.
On the plus side, I also have a lot of experiences with wolves themselves. As a wildlife photographer I’ve photographed them in Alaska and Canada as well as in Montana, where I lived a mile away from Yellowstone National Park. I got to know the real nature and behavior of wolves. I’d like to think that if ranchers knew the wolves the way I do, they wouldn’t be so quick to want to kill them off again. I shouldn’t have to remind folks that wolves were exterminated once already in all of the lower 48 states, except Minnesota, which had only six wolves remaining before the species was finally protected as endangered.
Although I personally believe that wolves belong to no one but themselves, to use game department jargon, wolves and other wildlife belong to everyone in the state equally—not just the squeakist-wheel ranchers and hunters. By far most of Washington’s residents want to see wolves allowed to live here and don’t agree with the department’s lethal wolf removal measures (that no doubt include plans for future wolf hunting seasons, which are currently being downplayed by the WDFW).
What’s to stop Washington from becoming just like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in implementing reckless wolf-kill programs that eventually lead to things like contest hunts (as in Idaho) and the subsequent decimation of entire packs? Or year-round predator seasons that ultimately result in federal re-listing (as in Wyoming)? What guarantee do we have that Washington’s wolves will be treated any differently?