Washington ranchers in wolf country should get GPS-collar
data, rather than depend on state wildlife managers to tell
them where dens are in the spring and early summer, a state
Farm Bureau official said Tuesday at a meeting of Fish and
Wildlife’s Wolf Advisory Group.
The organization’s director of government relations, Tom
Davis, a member of the group, said he’s frustrated by the
department’s long-standing policy of blacking out collar
data until July 16, well after cattle are turned out on
summer grazing pastures.
The department should trust ranchers to stay away from dens,
“If you get a bad actor, you do something about the bad
actor, but you don’t treat everyone like a bad actor, and
that’s what they’re doing now,” Davis said in an interview.
Fish and Wildlife officials defended the black-out period.
Wolf specialist Ben Maletzke said the department keeps
ranchers informed about pack movements, including the
location of stationary dens. “You don’t need daily
conversations to tell them it’s in the same place,” he said.
The advisory group met by phone Tuesday and planned to meet
again Wednesday to review wolf-related activities by the
department. Davis used the opportunity to challenge the
department’s black-out policy.
Ranchers should be able to check daily on wolf movements
without waiting to be contacted by the department, he said.
“I still don’t understand why we’re not making it easier to
get this information in the hands of the producers,” Davis
said. “We won’t be comfortable until that data pipeline is
opened up more, for the good our producers.”
The collars intermittently signal the location of a wolf,
identifying dens in the spring and rendezvous sites in the
summer, and giving an overall picture of a pack’s territory.
Fish and Wildlife had collars on 28 wolves, or 22% of the
state’s population, at some point in 2019.
After July 16, when pups have left dens and are more mobile,
ranchers can have direct access to collar data if they sign
an agreement to keep the information to themselves. The
department has given no indication the policy will change
“I think Tom’s right. The information should be put other
there,” Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President
Scott Nielsen said in an interview. “They (Fish and
Wildlife) may have some individual ranchers who are
satisfied. I can tell you, I don’t know any of them.”
Bill McIrvin, a partner in the Diamond M Ranch in northeast
Washington, said the family-owned operation isn’t getting
information from the department about the whereabouts of
wolves. “We are not, and we never have,” he said.
Diamond M was accused by a Washington State University
professor in 2016 of provoking attacks on cattle by placing
salt blocks near a den. WSU officials repudiated the
comments, saying the claim had no basis in fact and that the
ranch didn’t know where the den was when it released cattle.
McIrvin said knowing that the den was there could have saved
the ranch “a lot of heartache.”
“We would not have put the salt there if we had known
because we wouldn’t want to have held cows where the den
site was,” he said.
Diamond M has not signed an agreement with Fish and Wildlife
to get collar data after the black-out period. The agreement
was too intrusive, McIrvin said.
He also said the collars allow Fish and Wildlife to name
packs, focusing attention on the fate of packs rather than
reducing conflicts in specific areas.
“Collars kind of keep everybody stirred up,” he said. “The
wolves aren’t the problem, it’s the bureaucracy around the
wolves that are the problem.”