COLVILLE, Wash. (AP) – Ranchers in northeastern Washington offered a simple solution to keep wolves from killing their livestock: Pack up the predators and ship them to western Washington.
The suggestion came Tuesday night at a contentious meeting held by the Department of Fish and Wildlife in the Stevens County town of Colville, where anti-wolf sentiment runs deep.
“Why not take some to western Washington and build the packs over there?” asked John Moore, echoing a recurring theme during the four-hour meeting attended by about 200 people.
Liberal western Washington, where most of the state’s population lives, is where sentiment has been strongest to restore the wolf population.
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“We don’t want them here,” added Ken Barker of Loon Lake. “We want them gone. Take them to Olympia.”
Even elected officials joined the call for relocation, with Ferry County Commissioner Mike Blankenship also suggesting that wolves be sent west.
Relocating wolves would be expensive and require federal and state reviews, said Steve Pozzanghera, the department’s eastern regional director
The overwhelmingly anti-wolf crowd also expressed little sympathy for state efforts to recover wolf populations.
Agency director Phil Anderson made opening comments that proved to be an understatement.
“I know some of the answers we give you won’t be satisfactory to you,” he said.
Many of the comments by agency officials were met with boos and cat calls. They were accused of incompetence and even of deliberately trying to drive ranchers out of business in a government conspiracy to grab the land.
Wolves were killed off in Washington in the early 1900s. But earlier this century, they started to return, migrating from Idaho and British Columbia. Fish and Wildlife estimates that at the end of 2013, there were at least 52 wolves in 13 packs roaming eastern Washington. Since then, two more packs have been identified.
Of the 15 packs, 12 are in the mountainous northeastern portion of the state, where most issues involving livestock have occurred.
Okanogan County Commissioner Jim DeTro said the state has created a sort of “Jurassic Park” by promoting the establishment of wolves in livestock country. “We’ve got wolves in every corner of our county,” DeTro said.
Suggestions that wolves should be shot on sight and secretly buried were met with applause. A handful of people who spoke on behalf of wolves were booed.
Onlookers also rejected the department’s contention that wolves are arriving naturally to the area. They said wolves were deliberately reintroduced into the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem in the 1990s and have migrated from the park.
Officials responded that the majority of state residents, many in the populous Puget Sound region, want wolves in the state. It’s the duty of the agency to manage the animals, Anderson said.
It was a difficult summer for ranchers in wolf country. At least 33 sheep were killed or injured and a cow and calf were killed.
Dave Dashiell had his 1,800 sheep repeatedly attacked by members of the Huckleberry wolf pack in August.
“There isn’t any place in northeast Washington where you can go where there aren’t wolves,” Dashiell said. “It’s pretty tough to outrun a wolf pack with a band of sheep.”