Sophia Ressler: Washington needs rules that avoid wolf-cattle conflicts
By Sophia Ressler
Conflicts between livestock and wolves are not inevitable, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife should use sound science to develop wolf management rules that prevent killing wolves, while protecting cattle, sheep and other domestic animals.
The department is currently considering rules to dictate when wolves can be killed in the event of a conflict with livestock. The livestock industry has expressed opposition, arguing that the rules would be too burdensome for owners whose livestock are affected by predators. But that misses the point. The purpose of these regulations is the exact opposite: to stop conflicts between livestock and wolves before they start and to prevent impacts on livestock owners.
Science shows us that the use of non-lethal methods best prevents such conflicts. These include techniques for scaring wolves by hanging colorful flags around pastures and placing noise-making devices and flashing lights. Deterrent methods also include riders, on horseback or on all-terrain vehicles, to keep wolves away from grazing livestock.
For years, the department has killed wolves in the same area for the same breeder. This only brought new wolves into the territory and more wolves were killed. Obviously, the continued slaughter of wolves does not work; year after year, the cycle repeats itself. This is why the use of appropriate, non-lethal methods – adapted to the specific situation and landscape – must be included in the rule of the department.
The bottom line is that gray wolves are an endangered species, protected by both state and federal laws in the western part of Washington State. Their recovery in Washington has so far been successful, but it’s only just beginning. Wolves need safe places to live, including public forests where ranchers graze their cattle at heavily subsidized rates.
Moreover, wolves are a crucial part of the ecosystem. They help keep Washington deer and elk populations healthy and reduce the spread of disease.
All we’re asking for are common sense regulations that require that appropriate, non-lethal techniques for a given circumstance be tried before the state uses taxpayer dollars to cull ecologically critical native carnivores. These rules would also create liability for the state. Is this an unreasonable request?
I don’t think so, and neither did Governor Jay Inslee when he mandated – following a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, and our partners – that the department undertake this regulation.
In fact, the rules language currently proposed does not go far enough. He needs to put in place enforceable protections that will help restore the wolf statewide and better protect wolves and livestock.
That’s why we’re asking that more prescriptive, science-backed language be included in these rules. For example, the rules must apply statewide rather than in areas of chronic conflict and create thresholds that restrict when the department can consider killing wolves. We are also calling for a firm expiry date for all kill orders and language that requires the use of the best available science, instead leaving decisions entirely to staff preference.
These rules will help protect Washington’s wolves, livestock and ranchers, and are the best way to manage conflicts in the future. If you support this request, please notify the ministry by the April 11 deadline.
Sophia Ressler is an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in Seattle.