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gray wolf

Gray wolf

The latest rumor about gray wolves in Washington surfaced at a Spokane County Commissioners meeting Tuesday.

According to a county cattleman, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been collecting roadkill and dumping the carcasses in Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge to feed wolves.

He said a local couple no longer takes its kids to walk the refuge trails for fear of a wolf attack. There could be two to 20 wolves in the refuge, he suggested to the elected officials at the open meeting.

People will argue whether that's a load of garbage.

But who needs another argument when it comes to wolves? Who needs another rumor?

People naturally fear animals that make their living by killing 600-pound critters with their teeth. Exaggeration isn't necessary.

Or is it?

The group Washington Residents Against Wolves (WARAW) recently unveiled a set of four anti-wolf billboards in the Spokane area, adding to the four the group put up Nov. 15 to promote awareness of wolf issues.

Taking a lesson from PETA shock media tactics, the two billboard themes scream anti-wolf.

One features a snarling wolf with the words: "Endangered? No. Deadly? Yes. Good for Washington? Absolutely Not!"

The latest theme features images from elk and deer to a calf, a dog - and a child. The text says, "The Wolf ... Who's Next on Their Menu?"

Jamie Henneman knows these messages are debatable after sitting on the state's Wolf Advisory Group with people who adore wolves and bristle at any suggestion of lethal control.

Henneman, who does wolf-related PR for livestock groups as well as WARAW, spoke at the meeting with Spokane County Commissioners. Mainly she was courting the panel's support on pressuring state wildlife officials to manage wolves more actively.

She made some good points.

For instance, she said it's unfair that northeastern Washington takes the brunt of livestock kills and big-game impacts from wolf recovery. Meanwhile, Western Washington, which harbors a dominant voting block of wolf lovers, remains unscathed and resistant to lethal management of wolves.

Henneman defends the propaganda her groups put out, although she declined to cite funding sources for the Spokane anti-wolf billboard campaign when asked after the meeting.

"Sometimes you have to do something to get the public's attention so you can discuss the issues," she said.

WARAW's major talking points include:

* Wolves will wipe out big-game populations.

Definitely they will impact big game, but the group's charts for numbers of deer, elk and moose killed by wolves are exaggerated, state wildlife officials say.

* Wolves can carry the tapeworm, Echinococcosis granulosus, which can be transferred to humans.

But veterinarians point out that other critters are host to the parasite, too. It's been around for a long time. A human would essentially have to eat the feces of an infected animal to contract the parasite.

* Wolves are going to kill somebody someday.

This theme, poignantly portrayed in the new billboards, isn't necessarily an exaggeration. A wolf could kill a kid tomorrow, or perhaps not for 100 or 200 years. So could a horse.

The scare tactics ring hollow. While some Idaho hunters say wolves have ruined their sport, I have a friend who continues to fill his nonresident elk tag every year.

If you're worried about wolf diseases, wear latex gloves while cleaning game, wash your hands, cook meat properly - and don't eat poop.

Yes, the odds of getting attacked by a wolf are higher than they were 30 years ago when virtually no wolves resided in the Northern Rockies.

But consider Minnesota, which has had wolves forever. Officials estimate the state holds 2,400 wolves in 470 packs (compared with about 100 wolves and 14 known packs in Washington). Yet the state has had only one wild wolf attack on a human that's resulted in significant injury.

One fatal wild wolf attack has been recorded in the U.S. since 1888, and that was in Alaska in 2010.

Canada, which may have up to 60,000 wolves, has recorded two fatal attacks in the past 10 years.

Compare those numbers with about 30 fatalities annually from pet dog attacks or more than 50 deaths a year from bee/wasp stings and the wolf threat seems less billboard-worthy.

And simply carrying bear spray while hiking reduces your chance of being attacked to nearly zero.

Maybe the clueless masses need a wake-up call to deal with wolf issues.

But once wolf-wary and wolf-weary groups get the public's attention, stick with the facts.

Get beyond the limp tactics of simply blaming state wildlife officials. Their job is to manage and protect wolves along with all other native wildlife.

We should expect no less from them.

It's time to emphasize that keeping wolf numbers in balance with healthy deer and elk populations is the best insurance policy for wolf survival.

Keep the pressure on state wildlife officials to consider translocating wolf pairs. Speeding recovery in all sections of the state is required before wolves can be delisted from state endangered species protections.

The sooner the state meets legal recovery thresholds, the sooner we can start managing wolves.

Hunting is one of the tools that could be used, even though wolves quickly become too wary to be killed in high numbers by hunters.

"I think the wilder we keep the animals, the better it is," said David Mech, wildlife biologist and founder of the Minnesota-based International Wolf Center. "One way that's done is through hunting them."

Wild wolves that become unwary of humans are headed for trouble, he said.

All of the Spokane County Commissioners agreed Tuesday they would meet with state wildlife officials to see what could be done that isn't being done to make living with wolves easier for northeast Washington hunters and livestock producers.

But Commissioner Todd Mielke pointed out, "At the end of the day, we still have to follow the law."

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email richl@spokesman.com.

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