Draft wolf plan leaves ranchers with few options


Issue Date: December 9, 2015
By Ching Lee

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking public input on a draft plan to manage gray wolves in the state and address conflicts with livestock and other interests.

The plan, released last week, emphasizes nonlethal methods for minimizing livestock losses, because gray wolves are protected under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, making it illegal to "take" the animal.

The plan also outlines management steps the department would take as the state's wolf population increases. It proposes to evaluate delisting the species under the state ESA after the wolf population reaches nine packs, or 50 to 75 animals.

California ranchers have been awaiting release of the plan after state officials confirmed sightings of a pack of gray wolves—consisting of two adults and five pups—in Siskiyou County earlier this year. A lone wolf, OR7, also entered the state in late 2011 but moved on more than a year ago.

With the wolves becoming established in the state, California ranchers will look to the management plan to outline tools they could use to protect their livestock.

Kirk Wilbur, director of government relations for the California Cattlemen's Association, said the wolf's protected status leaves ranchers few options and limits what is allowed under the management plan, which the DFW drafted with input from various stakeholders representing ranching, conservation and hunting interests. The California Farm Bureau Federation, California Cattlemen's Association and California Woolgrowers Association were part of the stakeholder group that consulted on the plan.

The wolf management plan calls for nonlethal techniques for protecting livestock, including the use of fladry (flags along fencelines), electric fencing, radio-activated guard boxes, guard dogs, range riders and air horns, spotlights or cracker shells to deter wolves. DFW noted that this higher vigilance would result in increased costs to ranchers.

Before the California Fish and Game Commission voted in 2014 to list the gray wolf under the state ESA, Wilbur said those working on the wolf management plan always contemplated the possibility of lethal take as a management tool, used as a last resort for when wolves become chronic predators of livestock. But with the state ESA listing, that tool has been taken off the table, he added.

"Unfortunately, that's not something that can be corrected by the Department of Fish and Wildlife; that would require action by the commission or the Legislature," he said.

Under the plan, livestock producers would be notified of wolf activity near their property or livestock if such information is available. The plan also calls for development of a state-managed livestock/wolf program that would compensate producers for depredation or investment in nonlethal practices, which would require statutory authority and funding.

In addition, the plan encourages establishing a working relationship between the department and the public to share information, beginning with advisory groups in Modoc, Siskiyou and Lassen counties.

The plan proposes managing wolf population growth in three phases, with the first phase currently underway as individual dispersing wolves become established and form first packs. This phase would end when there are at least four packs or 16 wolves for two successive years, but DFW noted the estimated population would likely be 45 to 65 wolves, based on information from Washington and Oregon.

The second phase begins after establishment of five wolf packs in the state, with the wolves ranging into "suitable areas" of Northern California and portions of the central Sierra Nevada. At that time, the plan proposes "additional latitude" to manage impacts on livestock.

At phase three, or when nine packs consisting of 50 to 75 wolves have been established, the plan calls for review of the wolf's status to determine if state ESA protections should be removed.

Noelle Cremers, CFBF director of natural resources and commodities, encouraged Farm Bureau members, particularly those who raise livestock in Northern California, to comment on the plan. Deadline to do so is Feb. 15.

Comments may be sent via email to wolfplan@wildlife.ca.gov or to Wolf Plan Comments, P.O. Box 26750, San Francisco, CA 94126.

Erica Sanko, executive director of the California Woolgrowers Association, said it plans to coordinate with Farm Bureau and CCA to provide comments.

DFW will hold three meetings to provide information and hear views about the plan. All meetings are from 5 to 8 p.m. and will be held: Jan. 21, at Miner's Inn Convention Center/Best Western, 122 E. Miner St., Yreka; Jan. 26, at the Pointe Conference Center, CSU Long Beach, Walter Pyramid, 1250 N. Bellflower Blvd.; and Feb. 1, Double Tree Hotel, 2001 Point West Way, Sacramento.

(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at clee@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.