PERCs Take on Strategies for Eastern Washington Wolves

At one of the WGA (Western Governors’s Assocation) Working Lands meetings, I remember a speaker saying “some people think of ranchers as the enemy, what if we thought of them as partners?”. A number of years ago, I worked with environmental lawyers and others on the regulations around releasing genetically engineered organisms into the environment. It seemed like people who have worked in the polluting chemicals kinds of environmental issues wouldn’t think of Monsanto as a partner. The act of regulating industries should be more or less arms-length (you have to understand their processes, or you can’t be good regulators). But maybe natural resources-related environmental conflicts call for a different, more inclusive, and less adversarial approach. We see that with fisheries management, the sage grouse initiative, and so on.

I was thinking of #EnvironmentWithoutEnemies when I read this summary of a report by PERC. The whole summary and report can be found here. I bolder a few of my favorite statements.

The governor’s letter demonstrates the difficulty of managing the political pressures associated with wolf recovery. Wolf populations have been steadily increasing and are not dispersing across the state as initially expected, creating a high-conflict zone where wolves and ranchers are both heavily concentrated. The weaknesses in the state’s approach to managing this conflict are being magnified, and there is a need to adjust the existing management strategy.

Additionally, as WDFW begins planning for post-recovery, there is an opportunity to examine the current strategy and determine what changes should be made to protect the livelihood of ranchers while ensuring that wolves continue on their path to full recovery and delisting throughout the state.

Ensuring there continues to be a healthy ranching economy is a matter of fairness, economic strength, and environmental sustainability. The counties most affected by the return of wolves have some of the highest unemployment rates in the state, nearly double the state average. Ranchers, range riders, and hunters are also good partners in caring for the land and in funding wildlife stewardship. Successful wolf management that protects the livelihoods of ranchers and farmers while helping wolf populations grow is economically, morally and environmentally responsible.

Based on the history of wolf recovery in Washington and other western states, the best path would combine (1) improved non-lethal management approaches, (2) more rapid lethal removal of problem packs, and (3) expanded compensation programs designed by ranchers and others in the community where conflict is occurring. Some of these tactics are already being used but are not as effective as they could be for a variety of reasons. Additionally, since wolves have not dispersed across the state, the state should delist the species in Eastern Washington, as the federal government has, and focus its recovery efforts on other regions where wolf recovery is proceeding more slowly. The state can also pilot post-recovery strategies in Northeast Washington where the density of the wolf population is at a level that justifies delisting. Those pilot strategies should be developed primarily by the interested parties representing ranchers, conservation groups, and others in the affected communities. The state will always act as a backstop to any agreement, but it should encourage and be guided by a collaborative solution. Doing so would encourage groups to engage cooperatively rather than appealing primarily to the agency or to judges to intervene, which would increase conflict, mistrust and animosity. There is no quick solution, but as the experiences of other western states demonstrate, wolf recovery can be successful while providing ranchers with fairness and adequate levels of protection.

6 thoughts on “PERCs Take on Strategies for Eastern Washington Wolves”

  1. I remember a speaker saying “some people think of ranchers as the enemy, what if we thought of them as partners?”.

    That sounds like Peter Kareiva former chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy. As the attached linked article says, “Kareiva is known in scientific circles as a provocateur who constantly questions the status quo — a habit that has made him a few enemies among old-guard conservationists.”

  2. BTW we’ve had fairly successful livestock-wolf coexistence here in the Wood River Valley of Idaho with the Idaho Wolf Project since 2008.
    I am not sure the link works but please make it a hot link. Lava Lake Institute which is actually owned by sheep ranchers/ landholders Brian and Kathleen Bean has been the sponsor of this project which is cooperative with several local environmental groups and ranchers.

    • Thanks Cindy! The link works and the technologies are fascinating. I particularly was intrigued by fladry and turbofladry.

  3. I guess it depends on how you define success.

    I’d define success as a healthy wolf population that doesn’t cause undue hardship to anyone, and is not paid for by those who have had to endure the downsides of wolves. Success would be widespread acceptance and support for wolves in those of the human population who have been adversely affected. By those measures wolf reintroduction has been successful nowhere in the lower 48.

    Every state where wolves currently exist has experienced endless lawsuits from environmental groups. Even after delisting via the US congress that wasn’t subject to judicial review. Look at who pays the price, and see what they think. Hunters, ranchers, rural residents with other kinds of livestock and even just dog walkers.

    The only scientific study of confirmed kills to beef cows versus actual mortality give a ratio of 1/7. What if you were offered fifteen cents on the dollar? Is it any wonder most ranchers don’t participate in any compensation program? There are always the hobbyists, and they always make for good copy in the HCN or similar media, but if you go down to any rodeo and take a poll amongst working ranchers, sentiments are just about universal.

    Myers in his paper goes on to suggest hunting to control wolf populations, hunters have been unsuccessful in putting a dent in numbers in Wyoming/Idaho/Montana, trapping which is much more effective, also can’t control wolf populations. Shooting out of helicopters is effective and also expensive. And who is to pay for all of this, people don’t eat wolves. To maintain stable wolf populations you need to cull between thirty and fifty percent of the population every year. Imagine the cost. Imagine wolf advocates, speaking of which…..

    Myers also mentions the State of Washington having to cancel public hearings because of all the death threats by wolf advocates. Hunters are familiar with the death threats, they threaten you, they threaten your kids. No thanks.

    Kareiva was right. I assume everyone must know of him, chief scientist Nature Conservancy, Member National Academy of Science, now leading UCLA’s Institute of the Environment. Kareiva was right, Conservation is about people, and wolf reintroduction was decidedly bad for a lot of people, I certainly wouldn’t call it a success anywhere yet, and despite this paper financed by a group wishing to bring market solutions to conservation, I see no place for ranchers or hunters in Washington’s plan.

  4. The opening of this post reminds me of the idea in business of combining competition and collaboration, which is actually fairly common in many sectors and between companies. It’s beyond just friendly competition, its become know as collab-etition or collabetition, depending on preferences. Harvard Business Review did an article about it back in 1989:

    There are quite a few more recent articles, all of which suggest some value in working as partners even when the relationship is subject to ethics laws of federal contracting, etc. Probably slightly beyond the wolf recovery work described by PERC, but perhaps its an idea worth looking at from that broader perspective.

  5. RE: Wolves in Washington state: Managing the Final Steps to Recovery and Post-Recovery

    “Final Steps to recovery?” According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife the entire state of Washington has about 125 wolves. Seems like the final steps” to recovery might be a long ways off.

    Also, as we discussed on this blog on June 17, 2020:

    Wildlife Advocates Sue Forest Service Over Rising Wolf Body Count in Washington

    Twenty-six wolves killed—including the Profanity Peak Pack—due to agency’s continued preferential treatment for livestock grazing over coexistence with wildlife

    Spokane, WA – WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, and Kettle Range Conservation Group filed a lawsuit today to ensure that the U.S. Forest Service protects endangered gray wolves on the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington where livestock ranching activities have incited conflict. This woeful negligence by the federal agency has resulted in the deaths of 26 wolves since 2012, including the total destruction of both the Profanity Peak Pack and the Old Profanity Territory Pack.

    Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the Forest Service’s revised Colville National Forest Plan for failing to evaluate how the agency’s federally permitted livestock grazing program adversely affects wolves—a species eradicated from most of the contiguous United States by the 1920s. The groups are also challenging the Forest Service’s approval of cattle grazing for Diamond M Ranch, which is responsible for the majority of wolf deaths on the Colville National Forest since 2012, without requiring any measures to prevent these wolf-livestock conflicts from recurring.

    “The blood of these wolves is on the Forest Service’s hands. Just because the agency didn’t pull the trigger, doesn’t mean the agency didn’t supply the gun and ammunition,” stated WildEarth Guardians’ Wildlife Coexistence Campaigner, Samantha Bruegger. “The Diamond M Ranch livestock grazing allotments, on 78,000 acres of the Colville National Forest, have been notorious as the place where wolves go to die. We want to change that and we think the agency can and should demand ranchers who receive grazing permits must coexist with wolves on national forest land.”

    Located in the Kettle River Range and the Selkirk Mountains, the Colville National Forest is mostly comprised of densely forested, rugged terrain—ideal habitat for native carnivores like wolves, grizzly bear, and lynx. Yet nearly 70 percent of the national forest (about 745,000 acres or 1,164 square miles) is allocated to livestock grazing, making the region the epicenter of wolf-livestock conflicts in Washington State.

    In its newly revised Forest Plan, adopted in October 2019, the Colville National Forest failed to even acknowledge the gray wolf’s return to the region, yet the plan sets management directives for livestock grazing, wildlife and other uses across all the forest’s 1.1 million-acres for the next 15 to 30 years.

    “The gray wolf only began reclaiming its historic habitat in Washington State around a decade ago, yet the Forest Service entirely ignored the management implications of this native carnivore’s return to the Colville,” explained Jennifer Schwartz, staff attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “The Forest Service is legally obligated to explore measures for reducing these recurring conflicts so wolves can hold their rightful place on this forest and carry out their critical ecological role. This deliberate agency inaction is contrary to federal law.”

    “It is the responsibility of National Forest leadership to protect, restore, and maintain wildlife habitat, but it has abdicated its authority,” said Timothy Coleman, director for Kettle Range Conservation Group. “Whether you love wildlife, like to hunt and fish, or enjoy beautiful trails free of manure, putting one cattle corporation’s profits ahead of all other interests is a blatantly outrageous waste of our Public Land.”

    “Washington’s wolves deserve better than to be cast aside for private business profits,” stated Jocelyn Leroux of the Western Watersheds Project. “The Forest Service has ignored its charge to protect wildlife and instead relinquished power to a wolf-hating private livestock operation. By failing to consider the impacts of cattle grazing in the Colville National Forest on Washington’s native wildlife, the Forest Service has all but guaranteed the wolf slaughter will continue.”

    The Forest Service’s inaction is symptomatic of a larger problem within the institutions charged with “managing” wildlife on these federal public lands. Much like the federally-funded wildlife killing program, Wildlife Services, the Forest Service has also chosen to blatantly ignore the changing values of the public and scientifically-backed coexistence practices that can proactively avoid and reduce conflicts between native carnivores and livestock. In fact, for the last 5-10 years, environmental groups have engaged in a relentless and tenacious effort to reform the reckless ways of Wildlife Services and those efforts have resulted in significant steps forward, like in WildEarth Guardians’ most recent settlement in Montana.

    “Unfortunately, it takes litigation to force these federal agencies to fulfill their legal duties when it comes to dealing with conflicts between livestock and gray wolves, and this case is just another example,” stated Laurie Rule, senior attorney with Advocates for the West who is co-counseling the case.

    Historically, the Forest Service has largely escaped intense scrutiny for its practices. Yet, it is this agency’s actions, through the permitting of livestock grazing, that are driving the killing of wolves, grizzly bears, and other carnivores on public lands across the West. With cattle just turned out for the 2020 grazing season on the Colville National Forest, wildlife advocates don’t want the fate of a new wolf pack in this territory—the Kettle Pack—to similarly hinge on whether one of them attacks a cow, wandering unattended, in this vast, heavily wooded expanse.


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