OKANOGAN — State officials assured Okanogan County residents Thursday that some problem wolves that kill livestock will be trapped and euthanized this year.
“The lethal side of management is controversial, but it is a very real part of management,” Dave Ware told a standing-room-only crowd that included many cattle ranchers.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife game division manager added: “We’re trying to be more aggressive, and we’re trying to be more responsive.”
Ware said his agency has created a wildlife-conflict section to stay on top of problem wolves, and has hired someone in Northeast Washington whose only focus will be on wolf conflicts.
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And, they will share radio-collar information about where the wolves are with ranchers who have cattle in the area.
The agency came to this part of Washington to hear from ranchers and consider modifying its management of wolves.
Still, more than 200 people who crowded into the Okanogan County PUD auditorium for Thursday night’s wolf meeting weren’t satisfied.
Some told Wildlife officials they plan to manage wolves their own way — by shooting them on sight.
Others said they were afraid to let their children or grandchildren play in their yards.
Okanogan County Commissioner Ray Campbell told Wildlife officials the county doesn’t really trust them.
He said they’re planning to call the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office when there were issues with wolves.
Jim DeTro — also an Okanogan County commissioner — told them the county is interested in giving jurisdiction over the wolves to the Colville Tribes.
Tribal officials last year issued nine permits to kill wolves on the Colville Indian Reservation.
People also questioned the cost of wolf recovery. Last year it was $450,000, including $77,000 trying to resolve problems with the Wedge Pack north of Kettle Falls.
The pack had killed dozens of cattle at one ranch, and Fish and Wildlife officials eventually decided to kill the entire pack.
After that experience, Ware said, the state hopes to act more quickly, and if problem wolves are located east of Highway 97 — where wolves are federally delisted — they’ll consider trapping and killing them.
It’s a decision that will still be made by state Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson, Ware said, but added, “Lethal removal is going to be part of that management.”
Ware also said he’s expecting the federal government to include the rest of Washington in the area where wolves are no longer protected.
But the state will continue to consider them endangered until there are at least 15 breeding pairs, including at least four pairs in each of three separate areas.
Currently, there’s one breeding pair in the North Cascades region — the Teanaway Pack — and four in Eastern region.
No breeding pairs or packs have been identified in the southwest region, which includes the Olympic Peninsula.
Ware said he expects other packs to disperse into those areas in the next year or two.
If they don’t, he said, the state will consider going through the environmental review needed to relocate wolves from Eastern Washington, he said.
The number of confirmed wolves nearly doubled last year, from 27 to 51, he said.
But state officials estimate there could be as many as 100 in the state now.
In addition to answering questions, wildlife officials presented information on how to preserve the scene when a rancher suspects livestock was injured or killed by wolves.
And they talked about measures to help prevent issues with wolves, ranging from scaring them off to hiring range riders and putting up electric fencing.
The agency will share costs for some proactive measures taken by ranchers, and compensate when a wolf kill on livestock is confirmed.