THE SPOKESMAN REVIEW – ELI FRANCOVICH – A cattlemen association in Stevens County urges residents to report wolf and cougar attacks to law enforcement before calling state wildlife managers.
In a news release Tuesday, the Stevens County Cattlemen Association counseled “Eastern Washington residents that are experiencing problems with predators to call their local sheriff first, before calling the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.”
The release was prompted by an incident Memorial Day weekend when a wolf approached a man and his daughter. The man shot and killed the wolf.
“I think that was a much bigger deal than the department wants to portray it as,” said Scott Nielsen, president of the cattlemen’s association.
The association accused WDFW of downplaying the incident, not reporting it to the sheriff’s department and suggesting that the man didn’t need to defend himself. Additionally, the release said that WDFW confirms and then denies that livestock depredations were caused by wolves or cougars.
The news release came as a surprise to Stevens County Sheriff Brad Manke.
“I had no idea that they were publishing that,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, Fish and Wildlife is, and will remain, the primary agency on the response for these calls.”
Manke said that in the aftermath of the Memorial Day incident he thought WDFW acted appropriately and took the incident seriously.
“The release said the agency suggested the man didn’t need to defend himself and downplayed the seriousness,” Manke said. “If they didn’t feel the man wasn’t justified, he’d probably be in jail. I’m not sure where that came from.”
WDFW Police Capt. Dan Rahn pushed back on other aspects of the release.
“Public safety is a priority for us,” he said. “I mean, we care about the wildlife and everything, but people’s safety is the highest priority.”
Rahn said the agency didn’t notify the sheriff right away because it was a holiday weekend. However, the information was conveyed. As for the allegation that WDFW said the man didn’t need to defend himself, that’s not true, Rahn said.
He emphasized that WDFW and the sheriffs in both Stevens and Ferry counties work closely together.
“When people experience an attack on their pets or livestock from a predator, obviously we take that seriously,” he said.
Manke did say he wished his officers were informed of the Memorial Day wolf encounter when it happened.
“It was concerning to me that we weren’t notified at the time of the incident,” he said.
But, those concerns were passed along to WDFW and they’ve been responsive, he said.
As for confirming and then not confirming a depredation case, Rahn said he could only think of one example in the past years. In that case, a WDFW investigator who didn’t have much experience confirmed that a cow had been killed by wolves. Later, other WDFW investigators said it was not a confirmed wolf attack.
Ultimately the attack was confirmed to be a wolf attack, Rahn said.
“We want to call it as it is,” he said. “There is no agenda on trying to go one way or another. It’s just looking at the physical evidence on the animal and trying to determine what attacked it or killed it. We have to be able to make the right call, because it can have implications down the line.”
The cattlemen’s news release highlights the skepticism with which some northeast Washington residents view WDFW’s management of wolves and cougars. A minimum of 126 wolves in 27 packs with 15 breeding pairs were counted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife during its annual winter survey. The majority of those wolves live in northeast Washington.
“I think the department does everything it can to minimize the effect of what’s happening to folks up here,” Nielsen said.
Rahn understands the concern and fear as predator numbers increase. But, at the end of the day, painting WDFW as the adversary isn’t helpful for anyone, he said.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “I think we could get a lot farther by working cooperatively together. We all have, I would hope, the same interests in mind. The same goal in mind. To protect people and their property but also have a healthy viable wildlife population.”
A yearling female gray wolf is set in the shade by Washington Fish and Wildlife Department biologists in the July 2013 photo so it can continue waking from the effect of tranquilizers after it was captured and fitted with ear tags and a GPS collar in Pend Oreille County in Washington state.