WA accepts amendments to expand wolf-loss compensation

Dec 21, 2012

Friday, Dec. 14 saw the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) move on amendments proposed last month to its state administrative code (WAC). The amendments, which provided renewed and expanded loss compensation to livestock producers due to wolves and other large predators, were approved.

As reported back in November (WLJ vol. 92, issue 7), the proposed amendments to WAC will allow ranchers to file loss compensation claims based on losses sustained via stress caused to their animals by predator harassment rather than just confirmed attacks or kills. The relevant section of the amendment—WAC 232-36-200, “Payment for commercial livestock damage, Limitations”—reads as such:

“Damages payable under this section are limited to the lost or diminished value of commercial livestock caused by wild bears, cougars, or wolves and shall be paid only to the owner of the livestock, without assignment.”

The earlier striking of “lost profits” as an ineligible basis for compensation claims in the amendment’s later portion was maintained. This detail garnered significant public complaint where “lost profits” was understood to mean lost weight gains in livestock.

“It’s unfair that ranchers pay only $1.35 per AUM for grazing on public lands.... this [sic], in itself, is a subsidy,” read one public comment included in the amendments presented for voting.

“If you decide to subsidize weight loss, increase grazing fees and use that money to subsidize weight loss. Lastly, to my knowledge, there are no peer reviewed scientific studies supporting the ‘weight loss’ theory, and until this issue is studied and has scientific basis, any compensation is premature.”

Another public comment included suggestions of additional requirements tied to compensation for predator-caused weight loss in livestock.

“I believe very strongly that compensation for livestock losses and weight loss should only be given to people who have entered into contracts to use non-lethal wolf conflict avoidance. It should not be just that contractholders [sic] get a higher priority; only contractholders should get compensation at all.”

Dave Ware, DFW game division manager who presented the edited amendments for voting, commented in the commission meeting about the department’s dedication to working with all parties involved.

“We are continuing to work with the environmental community as well as the livestock community on how we might compensate for some of those things that are a little more nebulous, like loss of weight gains and greater than normal losses on open range.”

He did point out, however, that there were some challenges despite their dedication.

“We have not developed a way to quantify how much we would be willing to pay for [weight loss claims]. And we haven’t developed the compensation mechanism, but we will. We’ll follow the [wolf management] plan and we will continue to work on trying to figure out that mechanism.”

Another detail of the passed amendments was WAC 232-36-400, which provided for the creation of a livestock appeals committee. The appeals committee will be composed of “a minimum of three citizen members appointed by statewide livestock organization(s), a representative from the department of fish and wildlife, and a representative from the department of agriculture.”

The committee’s purpose is to review situations in which a livestock owner making a claim rejects the compensation offer given by DFW.

Ware stressed the department’s interest in working with interested parties on both sides of the wolf issue. He also acknowledged the problem of losses beyond death of cattle to wolves and other predators to producers.

“These compensation rules associated with conflict losses help us demonstrate more of a commitment to considering losses for producers that go beyond what is confirmed and probable.”

Ultimately, the amendments passed at the DFW December meeting left most of the livestock compensation details unchanged. Two earlier amendments dealing with compensation for noncommercial livestock and guard dog losses were dropped for funding reasons. Compensation for noncommercial livestock losses is expected to be dealt with in future amendments to WAC.

On the matter of funding—a topic which drew some questions from the voting attendees prior to the actual voting—Ware had a lot to say.

“At this point we have $50,000 the legislature appropriated for compensation, and we have another $50,000 that we’ve allocated for assistance to producers on [implementing] these non-lethal measures.

“At this point with eight [claim] agreements, we’re around a $30,000 range in terms of our commitment. And that’s an annual commitment.”

He explained that in the event of more claims being made in a budget year than is available, those claimants would be prioritized for compensation in the next year. However, he again conceded that there are some problems to be addressed.

“We would have to set up a prioritization process so that we can do a better job of allocating the money. But at this point we are still a ways away from allocating all the funds.”

From here, the Fish and Wildlife Commission-passed amendments to WAC will be incorporated into the WAC’s “Wildlife Interaction Regulations” chapter. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor