Washington politicians consider wolf legislation

Feb 15, 2013

As the controversy between Washington ranchers and wolves plays out in the state’s northeast corner, lawmakers in Olympia are considering several pieces of legislation that may have an effect on the ranchers’ ability to maintain their livelihoods.

Owing to the nature of Washington’s wolf management plan, which calls for dispersal throughout the state before Endangered Species Act restrictions can be lifted, Rep. Joel Kretz introduced a bill last month calling for the transplantation of wolves into the western portion of the state. Billed by the representative as “ensuring all Washingtonians share in the benefits of an expanding wolf population,” the bill was largely regarded as tongue in cheek by the House, and was removed as ‘unfavorable’ by House leadership amid complaints of political posturing on the part of the representative.

While he does not advocate the transplant of wolves, Washington Cattlemen’s Association Executive Director Jack Field does point out that the bill served a valuable purpose. “A discussion on the issue was essential, and it’s generated a lot of discussion,” he says.

According to Field, increased discussion will hopefully bring attention to several more serious bills related to wolves awaiting review by various house committees. These bills include HB 1191, which would require the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to establish rules allowing livestock owners the right to protect their stock, and HB 1219, which would establish big game status for wolves in the state. Several other bills under consideration relate to compensation, mechanisms for generating the necessary funding, and the empowerment of local governments to manage wolf populations. Those, says Field, are unlikely to be heard in the Democratically-controlled house.

“In all honesty, there is very long odds on getting anything on compensation or proactive lethal take out of committee,” he says. “But any one of those bills could pass, and we could all say we’d done something good for the state’s wolf plan.”

Of greater concern, indicates Field, is a bill introduced by Democratic Sen. Kevin Ranker. SB 5300, if passed, would require any livestock operator on public land to obtain a cooperative agreement with WDFW pertaining to wolf management. This would potentially make currently voluntary programs, such as the use of range riders, or other non-lethal methods, a legal obligation of the rancher. “That takes the voluntary nature of an agreement, and flushes it out the window,” says Field. “I’m all for voluntary participation in these programs, but they should certainly not be mandatory.”— Jason Campbell, WLJ Correspondent