Local group starts wildlife survey, concerned about predators

RaeLynn Ricarte

The Northeast Washington Wildlife Group is asking local residents and hunters to fill out a survey that shows their level of concern about predator management decisions being made by state officials.
The Wildlife Survey asks a series of “yes” and “no” questions, the first six about wolf and cougar issues, including attacks on domestic animals people have experienced or are aware of. They also want to gauge whether people feel the predator population has increased in their area and whether they have been in an uncomfortable position because of wolf or cougar presence.
The remaining five questions are directed at hunters, asking if they support a 4-point Antler Point Restriction to help deer herds repopulate, and whether they fear for their child’s safety in the woods.
They are also asked if they believe that public safety concerns now pose a barrier to youth hunting.
The surveys are available at businesses throughout the area where they can be picked up and filled out at a person’s convenience. Completed forms can be left at the store or mailed to the Wildlife Group’s address in Deer Park.
The plan, said Al Martz, co-chair of the Wildlife Group, and Dale Magart, its secretary, is to collect the surveys by the third week in February so they can be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission at its annual meeting March 12-14 in Tri-Cities.
The commission is the supervising authority for Fish and Wildlife and consists of nine governor-appointed members serving six-year terms.
Magart said 22 surveys have already been returned and all from people who are expressing concerns about the growing predator population in rural Washington.
“I think people are starting to get really concerned,” he said.
Last year, Martz said 60 people went to the commission meeting to testify, which showed the high level of interest in management practices.
However, Magart said the commission, and other Fish and Wildlife officials, seem to dismiss personal accounts as “anecdotal,” which means they are not necessarily true or reliable.
“If we walk in with all of these surveys then, hopefully, they will pay more attention,” he said.
Hunters comprise only 3 percent of the state’s population but they contribute millions into the economies of rural communities. Plus, the licenses and tags they purchase fund many Fish and Wildlife programs, said Martz.
He said if fewer young people grow up learning to hunt, the economy will be adversely affected, as will and state wildlife management.
Martz said ungulate herds appear to be declining at a rate that should be making state officials nervous. Instead, he claims that biologists with Fish and Wildlife seem to be underreporting the number of predators and over-reporting deer, elk and moose populations to make the situation look better than it is.
“We think of ourselves as more of a conservation-oriented group,” said Martz.
In 2014, the last year of an Antler Point Restriction in Pend Oreille, Stevens and half of Ferry counties, hunters had the highest success of all Northeastern Washington, said Martz.
There were 4,478 deer harvested, a number that rose to 6,090 the following year. However, the take for 2019 is expected to be 3,200 or less due to predator activity, said Martz.
Wildlife Group contends that public safety concerns have grown enough that it erected a new billboard last summer on the north side of Highway 395 near the Chewelah Casino reading, “Dangerous Predators, Protect Family and Pets, Report Incidents 509-684-2555.”
It was the second sign in Stevens County asking people to call the sheriff’s office instead of Fish and Wildlife with predator problems.
The Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, in partnership with the Wildlife Group, sponsored a billboard along the southbound lane of Highway 395 in Arden with a similar message. Both nonprofits believe the state needs to do a better job of managing wildlife with more accurate counts of predator and prey, and a more proactive plan to deal with public safety issues and livestock kills.
The Wildlife Group formed in 1996 after a couple of bad winters decimated the deer population. Martz said state biologists said then that herd numbers would return within a couple of years, so the losses were not a long-term problem. He said, with wolf numbers growing, a bad winter could take deer herds down to levels that don’t rebound, which will adversely affect the entire ecosystem.