Those supporting wolf recovery in Washington and throughout the West, who understand the ecological role of the wolf, extend our heartfelt thanks to Gov. Jay Inslee. Late last month he sent a letter to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), requesting changes in its wolf recovery program. In it, Inslee states, “The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable.”
The governor’s engagement has given traction to slipping recovery. Population growth was a mere 6% in 2017 and 2% in 2018. So far we have lost 16 of 126 known wolves in 2019.
The governor’s letter incorporates ideas The Lands Council and other conservation groups have forwarded over the past several years, highlighting the ongoing conflict between wolves and livestock in the Kettle Range.
With the governor’s support, it is time to move forward. Forward progress requires coexistence, collaboration and compromise. Working together we can adjust our practices to coexist with the wolf and other carnivores. Our past meddling, and removing carnivores, has tinkered natural systems out of balance. Restoring balance requires coexistence. Coexistence isn’t killing. Coexistence means to live together.
Social tolerance is an important aspect for wolf recovery. Social tolerance for the state’s repeated killing of wolves is plummeting. In his letter the governor states, “I share the public’s concern and am troubled that the Wolf Plan does not appear to be working as intended in this particular area in Northeastern Washington.
“We must find new methods to better support coexistence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state.”
The state has killed 26 wolves for preying on livestock in the Kettle Crest area of the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington since 2012. The terrain is steep, rough and heavily forested. Livestock scatter throughout the forest in prime wolf habitat displacing native prey. During much of the permitted grazing season wolves are raising pups and tied to a small geographic area. Wolves kill and eat what is available. Conflict is inevitable.
Why are livestock still allowed to graze on public lands in the face of all of this conflict? Despite the loss of life of both cattle and wolves, the U.S. Forest Service continues to permit grazing. Incidentally, the land is owned by all of the citizens of the United States, it is federal land. So the land manager of our land, the Forest Service, paid with our tax dollars, is permitting an activity that is killing our wildlife.
Grazing policy in the Colville National Forest must change. Current policy allows a nonnative species, the cow, to enter the food chain in the forest. This ill adapted animal would never have survived in the American West without the protection of man — we eradicated predators in defense of this animal before.
This is not a call to end all public lands grazing, many ranchers are managing to coexist with returning carnivores. However, in areas of repeated conflict, where livestock grazing leads to the killing of wildlife, we must modify the conditions which it is allowed.
Gov. Inslee set a deadline of Dec. 1, 2019, for WDFW to act on his requests and statutory requirements. Making the necessary changes will require collaboration and compromise between the state agency and Forest Service.
Your voice of support matters. Thank Gov. Inslee and reach out to state and federal legislators to take action to change policy to protect and restore dwindling biodiversity.