Out of My Mind, Feb. 16, 2012

Is the Washington ready for wolves?

I suppose the question is not whether the state is ready for wolves as they’re already here in Okanogan County, but rather what to do about them if they become the bothersome creatures that many ranchers and others are predicting.

The issue really came to a head after the appointment of Jay Kehne to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. Going by his hometown, Kehne, from Omak, would seem a good choice to represent Eastern Washington on that board. However, his selection hasn’t set well with many state Republican legislators, especially those representing the Seventh District, which includes much of Okanogan County because he works for a conservation group, Conservation Northwest, that deals with wolves. Kehne’s appointment, originally supported by Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Lampe, is now opposed by all three commissioners, including our north county representative Jim Detro.

Among those shouting the loudest about the choice is state Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda), the House Minority Leader. He has asked for Kehne’s appointment by Gov. Chris Gregoire to be vacated.

“I talked to her about this appointment back in December. “You would think when they’re making an appointment that’s critical for rural parts of the state there would be some communication. She’s got a person advising her on natural resource issues. Evidently he’s more in tune with Eastern Washington than I am,” said Kretz, a Wauconda rancher, in an interview with a reporter with the Washington Newspaper Publishers’ Association (WNPA).

Kretz knows first hand what can happen when protected predators get too close to home, having lost several horses to cougar attacks on his ranch over the years.

Kehne for his part has hit back against these criticisms, saying that he has lived in Eastern Washington for 44 years and cites his 31 years of experience with U.S. Department of Agriculture natural resources conservation service “listening to ranchers and farmers and helping them with conservation on their properties.”

Wolves are naturally afraid of humans, but the federal government is asking a lot of people when they introduce predators to areas where we work and live or when they protect predators, like wolves, that naturally spread to nearby states like Washington when they are introduced in other states or provinces.

I’m curious what wolf advocates will think of the new movie “The Grey” it certainly doesn’t paint a docile picture of wolves in a case where people have strayed into the animals territory. Of course, The Grey is a Hollywood blockbuster and might not be the best source of the truth. Yet, even in the movie they say that wolves will avoid human contact.

The best thing to do in the situation might be to study how other states have dealt with increasing wolf populations. Find out the facts from all sides of the issue and then decide if we can live with more and more of them calling Washington state and Okanogan County home.