Wolves and public opinion
Thursday, January 24, 2013
You like wolves? Here, have some. Don’t worry, we’ve got plenty.
Or so says a mischievous Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, in a rather blunt bill allowing for the “translocation” of gray wolves from areas of the state with many, to areas of the state with none. Chances are people in wolfless regions would like them to stay that way. You can assume that Kretz suspected as much, but there’s a point to be made.
House Bill 1258 is peppered with sarcasm. Washington is rich in resources, and so has an expanding wolf population, it says. “Unfortunately, however, this bounty has been geographically limited to areas in Eastern Washington and the entire citizenship of the state has not been fully able to enjoy the re-establishment of this majestic species.
“The Legislature further finds that the Department of Fish and Wildlife can accelerate the pace by which all Washingtonians can enjoy the ecological benefits of an intact food web with a healthy population of apex predators by translocating gray wolves in areas of the state where wolf numbers are plentiful to area currently deprived of their ecological contributions.”
Kretz is a rancher who says he can find wolf prints not far from his home. He is a critic of the state’s wolf recovery plan, which he calls “deeply flawed.” He represents a district with most of the state’s identified wolf packs and communities that fear they will feast on their livelihood. Speak to him about this and you get the idea he doesn’t really consider the gray wolf “majestic” or relishes the animals’ “ecological benefits.” He admits parts of the bill are “tongue in cheek.” Neverthless, he went shopping for co-sponsors.
“I went to the most pro-wolf legislators in Western Washington. None of them would touch it,” he said. He suspects that wolves look majestic from long distances. What’s good for Northeast Washington is not so good elsewhere. “Really, it is hypocrisy,” said Kretz.
The return of the gray wolf to Washington is testimony to nature’s resilience. The species had been wiped out deliberately, then after decades reliable wolf sightings began coming in around 2005. The first pack was confirmed in Okanogan County in 2008. Just five years later there are eight confirmed packs and several more suspected. They are concentrated in Northeast Washington, near Kretz’s constituents. Conservationists want wolves to thrive and are thrilled by their progress, but Kretz says the people in the north and east of Washington, ranchers in particular, have been asked to bear the burden. They face predation and its economic threat and, Kretz says, they consider plans to deal with that inadequate. There is a backlash. You can get a feel for it in Wednesday’s story by The World’s K.C. Mehaffey on rising wolf anxiety in Okangan County. “It’s an absolute disaster in public opinion,” said Kretz.
The wolf has been removed from the federal endangered species list east of Highway 97. Kretz would like it removed from the state list as well. Under the recovery plan that cannot be, until there are established packs in all regions. Currently there are none in the Southern Cascades, or the Olympic Peninsula. Kretz is making an offer.
Conservationists and wolf supporters, not surprisingly, don’t consider Kretz helpful. Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest told the Capital Press that he was working on a bipartisan bill to move wolves from northeast to southwest. “Last week we were closer to success than we are today because Mr. Kretz’s bill has just filled the room with a bad odor,” he said.
Taunting opponents with sarcastic bills does not build political consensus, if Kretz is interested, but supporters of the wolf had best take heed. Public opinion is crucial, increasing in importance the closer you get to an actual wolf. Kretz gives evidence that people near wolves feel they are burdened by people far away. Fear and resentment can breed and spread, too.
Tracy Warner’s column appears Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 665-1163.
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