Lawmakers question wolf collar data blackout for ranchers

By: Matthew Weaver

Several Washington lawmakers are questioning a lack of wolf location data for ranchers during a key point in the season for both wolves and livestock.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife shares raw locations and GPS coordinates off of wolf collars with ranchers with livestock in wolf pack territory, to help reduce the risk of conflicts between wolves and livestock. The department shares the information online with producers who have a data-sharing agreement except for the denning season. Wolf location around den sites may make the animals more vulnerable, said Donny Martorello, wolf policy lead for the agency.

Washington Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, and Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart say the wolves’ location should be available to ranchers year-round.

Denning coincides with calving, the most vulnerable time for a rancher’s operation, Short said.

“Once again, my farmers and ranchers are the ones getting the short end of the stick,” Short said. “They need access to that data when they are vulnerable.”

“If it’s illegal to go out and poach those animals, I don’t see any one of our ranchers, farmers, anybody that’s going to risk being put in jail or fined just to go track down one den of wolf pups,” McCart said. “I think there’s a total lack of trust on behalf of the department to those that are being affected.”

The online tool to look at the raw information is turned off during this time, but the department still shares the information with ranchers verbally or with printed maps, Martorello said.

“There’s always some risk, particularly when wolves and livestock are in close proximity,” Martorello said.”If we have any producers that overlap with those den sites, we make sure those producers are aware of that.”

Some ranchers make routine calls to determine wolf locations or the department provides a weekly map of the wolves’ activities, he said.

Ranchers concerned about possible close proximity should contact the department, Martorello said.

McCart doesn’t believe the department’s current steps are adequate.

“We have enough money in this state to be paying people to watch computer screens of where these wolves are and give affected property owners a phone call, rather than just let them do it on their own?” he said. “That makes no sense.”

Live collar data will be available to ranchers signed up with a data-sharing agreement again beginning June 1, Martorello said.

The department will meet with county commissioners shortly to determine if there are other solutions to data sharing and den sites, he said.

“We’re looking for a creative solution that meets the needs of identity of critical points on the map for a recovering wolf population but at the same time, meets the needs of producers being able to minimize risks,” he said. “I can’t say what it’s going to look like, but we’re going to roll up our sleeves and try to figure something out,”

“The department is trying to work on these things really hard,” Short said. “My big frustration continues to be, it’s not on my ranchers’ timeline. If they’re the ones on the forefront of feeling the impact, then it ought to be, frankly, done on their time frame, not everybody else’s. We’ve been at this for years and my ranchers continue to be impacted.”

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