And thank goodness another reporter has taken over the Washington Wolf Beat for at least one day …
Craig Welch of The Seattle Times has a good front-page piece today about the situation in the Wedge of northern Stevens County where state marksmen have resumed their mission to take out as many as four more members of a pack that’s blamed for 10 injured or dead cattle this summer alone.
Despite setting up at the scene of two more dead calves found Wednesday — no official word yet on the perp — they were unsuccessful through yesterday.
But while my wolf-friendly wife surprised me this morning by now siding with the McIrvins who want the entire pack taken out, as Welch writes, “few think that will resolve this festering standoff.”
And a standoff it’s become — between wolves clearly continuing to test the Diamond M’s cattle; ranchers testing WDFW’s resolve on lethal removal; wolf advocates testing WDFW and its official depredation investigations and faithfulness to its management plan while now trying to steer (unintended pun) the McIrvins towards even more wolf-livestock preventative measures; Stevens County officials festering to get into the mix with more muscle; WDFW testing the patience of all parties as it tries to move methodically forward during its freshman year of actively managing Canis lupus and Homo sapiens.
Ahhh, the list goes on …
While wolves have actually been returning — or at least traipsing around and going who knows where — to Washington for decades without real success until 2007, Welch succinctly states:
Five years after wild wolves began returning to Washington, a long-simmering conflict between wolves and livestock has exploded with a vengeance. And by most accounts it couldn’t have happened in a worse place.
“I don’t know that I’d call this the perfect storm, but we have a substantial problem,” said Phil Anderson, director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Indeed, Anderson has seen the situation take up substantial chunks of his summer, and has made a flame run to the Wedge himself to talk with the McIrvins.
Welch writes of them:
The senior McIrvin, whose family has grazed cattle on public and private land in northeast Washington for more than a century, has long expressed disdain for wolves.
He has been unwilling to accept compensation for his dead animals, fearing that would legitimize the predator’s protection. At times he has urged state and local politicians to do what they can to make sure the entire pack is wiped out.
“Wolves have never been compatible with raising livestock,” McIrvin said in an interview. “They have no enemy other than man, disease and hunger, and we’ve taken man out of the equation.”
His son, Bill McIrvin, on the other hand, has shown more willingness to find a way to coexist with wolves, but with each passing week his pessimism mounts.
“I’d like to find common ground, but at this point it doesn’t look good,” the younger McIrvin said Thursday. “We just can’t operate with the kind of losses we’re seeing.”
There have been efforts to get Bill to talk to livestock operators elsewhere who’ve used a number of techniques to reduce wolf problems on their lands.
Welch speaks to an operator on Montana’s Blackfoot Challenge.
He also talks to Carter Niemeyer, and writes that too much intransigence to not try further preventative measures — they’ve increased range patrols, moved their calves into the hills later, removed injured ones — could backfire on the McIrvins.
“It’s a big gamble on a livestock producer’s part to just say, ‘Leave us alone.’ It creates a perception that they are bullies and makes more people angry over public-land grazing,” says Niemeyer, who is renowned for his wolf trapping and depredation investigations but perhaps not as well known for his people-handling/bomb-defusing skills.
Make of Welch’s ending what you will — all articles have to be pinched off at some point, the printed page can only hold so many words at readable font sizes (believe me, I know this all too well) — but the article wraps up with a quote on how solutions to wolf-cattle problems have been found in similar terrains.
It’s an attempt to make the situation into less of a, well, for lack of a better phrase, wedge issue.
Because if ever there was one in the West, it’s wolves.
And despite our position out here in latteland at the northwestern tip of the region, events in that triangular chunk of ground hard against the Canadian border are showing that things are playing out as they have across the region since 1995.
Let’s just hope we can avoid the litigation part of the whole deal.