The 18 members of the working group - regular folks who encompass ranching, farming, hunting, recreation and conservation backgrounds - met for the second time since their selection in January to consider how Washington state will prepare for the imminent arrival of wild wolves. The group must come up with a plan for dealing with wolves by this time next year.
"Wolves are not a big deal," Carter Niemeyer, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, told the working group during a session in Ellensburg that focused primarily on conflicts between wolves and livestock.
Niemeyer is a big man who appears capable of lifting an alpha wolf by the scruff of its neck with either hand and giving it a good shake to make it behave. He and Rick Williamson of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service shared tips and techniques they learned the hard way during reintroduction efforts in Montana and Idaho.
The working group had an escalating range of responses for dealing with livestock conflict, beginning with hazing wolves from a distance and ending with shooting the predator.
Ranchers are advised to shoo wolves by honking horns, shouting and waving, by staking out enclosures with cord hung with surprisingly effective red ribbons (called fladry), and eventually trying firecrackers and then rubber bullets or beanbag rounds. A lot of ranchers want to go right to the beanbags.
"It's a feel-good thing," Niemeyer said of the latter. "A rancher will say 'I just want to shoot at 'em.' In all these years there has been one beanbag hit."
The group peppered Williamson and Niemeyer with questions after the men contended some of the non-lethal means, while fine for deterrence, were pointless once a wolf made a livestock kill. Wolves who ate livestock and were relocated just did the same thing in new locations or hustled back to their old packs in a matter of weeks, they said.
"We ran around and spent tens of thousands of dollars relocating problem wolves when in hindsight it would have been easier to kill the wolf," Niemeyer said.
One pro-wolf Web site calls Niemeyer a murderer. He told the working group that killing some wolves is a pragmatic way to keep all wolves from being labeled as bloody killers.
Scare stories in the media "would misrepresent what wolves are doing," Niemeyer said.
The group took no official action on management measures but intently questioned Niemeyer and Williamson for a couple of hours.
Niemeyer stressed that the wolves will choose where they're going to live, and that the presence of wolves is not a negative. As he says, "330,000 have gone to see them in Yellowstone."