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.