Area residents voice concerns at roundtable

— Nearly 60 ranchers and hunters turned out Thursday night to voice concerns over wolf management rules during a roundtable discussion with state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials.

But state officials downplayed their concerns.

Saying the last legislative session was full of “lots of really intense conversation,” agency Director Phil Anderson said he was presenting new rules governing when it’s OK to kill a wolf to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission for approval.

“We’re in the process of developing a permanent rule,” he said, noting that he has the authority to write and extend an emergency rule.

During last spring’s legislative session, the Legislature approved an additional funding measure for the agency in exchange for developing rules that allowed rural residents to defend their families and property from wolf predation.

Generally speaking, the rule allows for residents to kill wolves “caught in the act,” Anderson said. “It happens very, very rarely that anyone gets an opportunity like that.”

Under the proposed new rule, rural residents would have more red tape to get through in order to kill a wolf.

Okanogan County Commissioner Ray Campbell took issue with Anderson’s position, saying he believes residents have the right to kill wolves.

“We do have a document, in my mind, that says we can,” he said. “It’s called the U.S. Constitution.”

Anderson shrugged off Campbell’s statement, only to be met with comments from ranchers and residents questioning the agency director’s authority over “migrating” wolves.

Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Jay Kehne came to Anderson’s rescue.

“The rule applies for wolves in the delisted area,” Kehne said, noting wolves “caught in the act” could only be killed east of U.S. Highway 97.

But in Okanogan County, wolves have attacked livestock and pets in the Methow Valley, well west of the highway which divides the wolf population into protected and non-protected categories.

“You can’t do that west of that line,” Kehne said of questions by ranchers wanting to protect livestock west of the highway.

Residents also questioned at what point the agency would step in to cull wolf populations to protect deer and elk.

“If we fall below a threshold of our herd objective,” Anderson said, noting he would like to see wolves delisted statewide to give his agency more management opportunities.

In other topics during the meeting:

• Anderson said he opposes efforts to expand or create a national park in the Methow Valley and other areas west of the Okanogan River.

• The agency announced a Fish and Wildlife Commission seat for Eastern Washington remains open and needs to be filled.

• Officials said fishing licenses are projected to bring in $6.4 million this year and $7.4 million next year.

• Local county officials complained the agency isn’t paying its fair share in payment in lieu of taxes to Okanogan County.

• Area residents objected to the agency’s continued acquisition of land and conservation easements in the county.

• Discussed the possibility of rescinding rules that mandate barbless hooks for salmon and steelhead fishing.

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