Wildlife rules face possible changes

‘Caught in the Act’ could become permanent law

— The state Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet Friday to consider changing its wildlife interaction rules, which could mean a permanent rule allowing local ranchers to take lethal action in wolf attacks.

Lethal action was the core of the emergency rule adopted April 26 for one-third of the state, including part of Okanogan County where the gray wolf is federally delisted.

While some language remains the same, new suggested guidelines require property owners to try non-lethal measures and provide photographic proof before resorting to killing wildlife or requesting compensation for livestock losses.

In addition, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife could press charges for unlawful taking of endangered wildlife against a person who kills a gray wolf that was not attacking a domestic animal at the time it was killed.

“I can’t say how it’ll go, but I think it’s an interesting discussion,” Jay Kehne with Conservation Northwest said of the meeting. “That (the emergency rule) was passed very well knowing that it would probably be used very seldom… but if it gives people the confidence and that tolerance to have wolves around, that they could take action if they need to, then it’s important. So we’ll see what happens.”

Kehne is also a member of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, but won’t be attending the meeting, he said.

“The Okanogan County commissioners support adopting the emergency rule to final rule with no changes,” Commissioner Sheilah Kennedy said, referring to the rule as it was adopted in April. “Many hours were worked to support the emergency rule and its passage.”

In the most recent proposed changes released Aug. 30, the “caught in the act” provision still holds that an owner of a domestic animal, including livestock or a pet, can kill one gray wolf without a permit if the wolf is attacking the animal.

The owner – or family member or employee – who shoots the wolf must report it to the state within 24 hours, then turn over the carcass and grant access to their property for an investigation.

“Protection of property using non-lethal techniques is the primary response encouraged by the department,” the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s proposed guidelines said.

Kehne said the emergency rule “has its purpose,” but his main concern has always been that it shouldn’t affect the state’s wolf recovery efforts. He thinks issues surrounding wolves, not all related to the caught in the act provision, will continue to come up in the future.

“There’s still so much work to be done,” he said.

Other proposed changes to be considered Friday include:

• Compensating owners of livestock killed by wolves for their losses at market value.

• Adding sheep, goats, swine, donkeys, mules, llamas and alpacas to the list of livestock for which owners could be compensated. The current list only includes cattle, sheep and horses.

• Permitting compensation regardless of whether the livestock was being raised for commercial purposes.

The amendments are available online at wdfw.wa.gov/about/regulations/development.html. The Commission’s meeting will be at 8:30 a.m. in Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E. Public comment for the proposed changes closed Sept. 20.

As of December 2012, the state counted five breeding pairs, four of them in northeastern Washington in the Diamond, Nc’icn, Huckleberry and Smackout packs. The fifth breeding pair was located in the Teanaway Pack near Wenatchee.

The wolf count will be updated this December, state Fish and Wildlife Department game manager Dave Ware said. The next count could include a new breeding pair in the Lookout Pack near the Methow Valley, where as many as three new pups were spotted this spring, according to Fish and Wildlife wolf biologist Scott Becker.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is still considering whether to delist the gray wolf in the lower 48 states.

The public comment period on that issue has been extended until Oct. 28.

Conservation Northwest is encouraging people to write letters urging the federal government to keep wolves listed.

“The recovery of wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and western Great Lakes has seen tremendous success, but the job of recovery is not done,” according to Conservation Northwest.

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