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GUEST COLUMN

Wolf plan a disaster just waiting to happen

The Washington State Wildlife Commission recently adopted a wolf plan for Washington state. The plan calls for an unrealistic minimum number of 15 breeding pairs given the constrained habitat of this state. This plan, touted as a "re-introduction," is actually an introduction of an invasive species, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Grey Wolf.

The fact is that the sub-species of wolf that was eradicated from this state is truly extinct and the advocates of wolves have substituted the Canadian Rocky Mountain Grey Wolf instead. It is important to note that the extinct wolf is estimated to have weighed around 75 pounds, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Grey Wolf weighs upwards of 120 pounds. It is most important to realize that the Canadian Rocky Mountain Grey Wolf is hardly sensitive, threatened or endangered within its native range. The Canadian wolf's numbers are so great that it is significantly hunted to reduce excessive debilitation of game animal numbers.

The past few years, these invasive wolves have been walking into our state from neighboring states (prior introductions) and Canadian provinces. Currently, five packs have been confirmed within Washington by the State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). There is at least one unconfirmed pack in the Blue Mountains. There are unconfirmed reports of wolves on the Yakama Indian Reservation as well as other reports of wolf sightings within the County of Yakima.

For the record, the Yakima County Farm Bureau is not in favor of the Washington State Farm Bureau's choice to support the majority opinion of the Washington State Wolf Management Plan, as it is contrary to our position on wolf introduction into Washington state.

Though we are opposed to any wolves in Washington state, we believe that the Minority Opinion supported by the Washington Cattleman's Association and many outdoor groups and associations was a more sound and prudent approach than what our state commission approved. We have repeatedly been told by our state agencies that the additional language that was added to the wolf plan in its latest form within the Majority Report is what will give us better protections than what the lower numbers of wolves (contained in the Minority Report) would yield.

The problem with the game commission's plan is two-fold:

We have no confidence with WDFW's response to wolf depredation and human interactions.

AND; even if we had confidence in WDFW's "help", there is no money in the state's budget to offer restitution for future losses.

Yakima County Farm Bureau is very concerned about the serious problem landowners, sportsmen and all the members of our community may soon be forced to face with the unwanted introduction of these wolves.

Yakima County is unique because it has within its borders a number of big game winter feeding stations for elk, big horned sheep and deer. These feeding stations have game fences that act as artificial barriers, which prevent big game from migrating to lower elevations for winter-feeding. These fences were purposely constructed to prevent big game animals from damaging valuable orchards, hay stacks, row crops, as well as from wandering onto major highways and into urban areas. With the construction of these fences, the state then commenced feeding of the big game in those feeding stations and therefore, game animals have been successfully managed in Yakima County for many decades.

Under the current Washington State Endangered Species Act, wolves will be the only apex predator not managed or controlled in Yakima County. Wolves are intelligent and will go where their food sources are the most abundant. With no fear of humans because they cannot be legally hunted or shot, there is no doubt they will arrive at our feeding stations to continue to prey upon the migrating herds.

Wolves, unlike bear and cat, hunt almost exclusively in packs and once they enter these feeding grounds, the big game will be at a tremendous disadvantage. The "elk fences" will make it easy for the wolves to trap and slaughter large numbers of animals. When this happens the next step in the wolf advocate's strategy will likely be to remove the existing fences to give animals a chance to flee from the wolf attacks. But a more likely scenario is that the elk will break down those fences as they scramble to survive the onslaught brought about by the wolf attacks.

With the "elk fences" removed or destroyed, big game and wolves would be free to enter agricultural and urban areas where considerable damage could occur. It seems ironic that we, as taxpayers, paid to have elk introduced into this area, paid to have the wildlife fences built, pay to feed the wildlife, and now are paying to have wolves eat the wildlife.

What sort of liability would a state face under the above circumstances? Will a judge simply dismiss a lawsuit for damages because the state says it has no money?

Yakima County Farm Bureau is concerned that public safety has been left out of the equation when it comes to these dangerous animals. We are not aware of any effort by state or local officials to properly educate the public about the true nature of these apex predators. We would further suggest that they also implement some sort of safety program in the schools so that children who are having an outdoor adventure or even playing in their back yard know how to react if confronted by one or more of these animals.

In summary, we believe that those associated with the management of large predators in Washington state have been very short sighted. Their efforts have concentrated on a plan that limits the use of public land while putting residents and children at risk. The numbers of these predators allowed or allocated will be a greater threat into the future as their numbers grow.

Allowing additional apex predators places an unnecessary risk on the public. After the disastrous wolf plan failures in Idaho, Montana and Oregon, the Washington State Wildlife Commission has followed suit and left common sense out of the document they call a wolf plan.

Yakima County Farm Bureau's position is no wolves should be allowed in Yakima County, or Washington state.

- Steve George is president of the Yakima County Farm Bureau.

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