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Fish and Wildlife Commission takes action to address wolf attacks on domestic animals
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Friday enacted an emergency rule to permit ranchers, farmers, and other pet and livestock owners in the eastern third of the state to kill a wolf that is attacking their animals.
The action followed a special meeting of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, during which the commission members instructed WDFW Director Phil Anderson to put the rule into effect. WDFW also is initiating a public rule-making process for the commission to consider whether to adopt permanent rules to address these issues, with a decision expected this fall.
Commission Chair Miranda Wecker of Naselle said the commission is striving to address the legitimate need of residents to protect their domestic animals without undermining the state’s long-term goal of supporting the recovery of gray wolves. Without the emergency rule, animal owners would have had to obtain a “caught in the act” permit from the WDFW director before lethally removing a wolf.
The Commission’s action followed a request from 10 state legislators, who urged the commission and the department to use their rulemaking authority to address the concerns of residents whose communities are most affected by wolf recovery.
Anderson said the department endorsed a policy allowing residents to kill wolves that are attacking domestic animals in testimony to the Legislature earlier this year. “As wolf activity increases and the annual turnout of livestock on the range is imminent, there’s a greater possibility of wolf-related conflict, so it’s important that we take this step now,” Anderson said.
“Wolf populations are increasing faster than anyone had imagined,” the legislators said in their April 23 letter. They urged the commission to act quickly “to maintain social tolerance for gray wolves in northeast Washington in the timeliest manner for residents.”
The letter (http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/20130423_letter_to_fwc.pdf) was signed by current and former leaders of the House and Senate natural resource committees and by several lawmakers from northeast Washington, where most of the state’s wolves have established their ranges. The signers include both Republicans and Democrats.
Anderson said the rapid increase of Washington’s gray wolf population, and the experience of other states where similar rules were used during the past 10 to 15 years, make it very unlikely that the emergency rule will impede the species’ long-term recovery in Washington.
WDFW wildlife managers estimate between 50 and 100 gray wolves are present in the state, and that the wolf population nearly doubled in 2012. As of March, there were 10 confirmed packs and two suspected packs, plus two packs with dens in Oregon and British Columbia whose members range into the state. Most of the state’s known wolf packs are found in Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.
The Eastern Washington Recovery Region lies east of a north-south line formed by U.S. Highway 97 from the Canadian border to its junction with State Route 17 near Brewster; east of SR 17 to its junction with U.S. Highway 395 near Mesa; and east of Hwy. 395 to the Oregon border.
The emergency rule (attached below) allows farmers, ranchers and other domestic animal owners, including their employees or agents, to kill one wolf if it is attacking their animals under the following conditions:
“The commission remains committed to the goal of gray wolf recovery in Washington state,” said Wecker. “This rule provides an important option to help animal owners, but its impact is clearly limited to cases where wolves are in the act of attacking livestock or pets.”
Anderson said the commission’s action responds directly to the concerns and needs of residents in regions where wolves are recovering, and it underscores the importance of prevention.
“No one wants to experience a wolf attack on their livestock or pets,” he said. “There are several steps people can take to minimize that risk. But it can still happen, despite someone’s best efforts to prevent it.”
Anderson said animal owners can minimize wolf conflict by: