Killing Wolves

In this July 16, 2004, file photo, a gray wolf is seen at the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minn.

Managing gray wolves must be exasperating for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials. Not only do they have 7.6 million backseat drivers in the state, many of whom seem to think they could do a better job, but they have been forced to build a wolf management system that is, by turns, ineffective and laughable.

First, the most important point. Gray wolves are thriving in Washington state. Their numbers have increased every year, to the point they were taken off the federal list of endangered species in the eastern region of the state.

Yet wildlife managers are forced to defer to environmental groups if they are considering removing — killing — one or more wolves that have repeatedly attacked livestock. The department gives notice to the environmentalists so they can run to court to try to prevent the managers from doing their jobs.

But there’s more. The managers are so hamstrung that they treat an attack on a cow or calf like a crime scene. It’s as though they are not trying to determine the cause of a death so much as building a defensible case in the event they are sued.

“There’s a full acknowledgement that wolves may kill livestock that the department can’t account for,” Julia Smith, the department’s statewide wolf manager, told the state Wolf Advisory Group last week.

They might as well read the wolves their Miranda rights, warning that any evidence can and might be used against them in a court of law.

We wouldn’t be surprised if the state also provided wolves with a lawyer. Oh wait, they already have a system set up so environmentalists do that.

We have opined before about the crying need to let state and federal wildlife managers do their jobs. If one or several wolves habitually kill livestock, they should be dispatched immediately to stop the carnage and send a message to others in the pack. Delaying, sometimes for weeks, only delinks the attack from the consequences. The department now says it will speed up that decision-making process, and that’s a step in the right direction.

This predicament is not unique to Washington state. Wildlife managers in other states are similarly second-guessed.

In Idaho, for example, managers are considering reducing the wolf population, which consistently hovers around 1,500.

Yet environmentalists say the state’s managers shouldn’t do their job. Worse yet, they argue the state’s managers should get approval from environmental groups before reducing the wolf population.

We fully support the right of the public to monitor how public resources such as wolves are managed. What we don’t support is the idea that professional wildlife managers need to get permission from environmentalists before doing their jobs.

Such deference only diminishes the effectiveness of the managers whose services are funded by tax dollars.

Environmentalists maintain that the wolves are victims. We maintain that the calves, cows and sheep that are chased by wolves and eaten alive are the victims, as are the ranchers whose livelihoods depend on them.

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