OLYMPIA - Giving farm families the ability to protect their property and livestock from predatory wolves is a right protected by the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, claims Sen. John Smith (R-Colville) as he testified this past Tuesday before the Senate's Natural Resources Committee on legislation he's proposing to control the marauding animals.
A second bill Smith is sponsoring would allow law enforcement officers to kill attacking wolves under certain circumstances.
The two bills would also limit the Department of Fish and Wildlife's ability to intervene in depredation caused by wolves.
Conservation groups disapprove of these measures.
The first, Senate Bill 5187, would allow owners of livestock, their immediate family members and employees to trap (as provided by state law) or kill wolves, among other mammalian predators, in the event that their livestock is being attacked. This would be allowed without a permit from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Current rules state that a permit is required to kill predators when the latter are attacking a human or one's livestock if that predator is considered to be an endangered species.
Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest disagrees with the proposed legislation, saying he would rather support translocation efforts. While he claims he recognizes the threat wolves pose, he blames the reason for the hype about wolves arose from the cattle injuries and deaths this past summer.
"After time, we'll adjust and the wolves will no longer feel so new and upsetting," said Friedman. "Wolves aren't angels or devils; they can respond favorably to management techniques."
According to Dave Ware of the state wildlife agency, the statewide minimum count for resident wolves in the state of Washington is 51. Last year, that count was only 27.
Smith cited the founders' intent for the Second Amendment to the Constitution in defense of his legislation.
"When our founders gave us the right to protect our property with the Second Amendment, I don't think they had in mind that we should hide inside of our houses as predators destroy our property," he said. "We're looking to defend our God-given right to protect our own property and our territory."
An amendment has been proposed that would add pets to the list of animals to protect in the event of a wolf attack.
Last year 12 calves were injured and nine killed by wolves, according to state wildlife officials.
SB 5188, also sponsored by Smith, would allow county law enforcement officers to kill wolves attacking livestock under three conditions: the wolf or wolves had attacked livestock on private property on at least two occasions; the attacks present a pattern that pose an imminent threat to private property or commercial livestock operations; and the Department of Fish and Wildlife has yet to take action to prevent these threats.
Okanogan County Commissioner Sheila Kennedy supports this legislation. "We should have the authority to make those tough decisions when they are before us and they are devastating the people of our county," she said.
Smith stated that the purpose of this bill is to reiterate the rights that counties already have to protect the property and livelihood of residents, and to ask the legislature to acknowledge that duty.
Roger Chapanis of Sammamish expressed concern about the way counties would apply the legislation if it were to pass.
"It seems the intentions are good, but I fear that the fear [of wolves roaming around in the night] will give into a desire to kill anything that moves," he said.
SB 5187 and 5188 have yet to be scheduled for final committee consideration.
- Kylee Zabel is a reporter for the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.