A visit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to the board of supervisors meeting proved to be a little heated during a discussion about wolves in California.
CDFW Wildlife Program Manager Karen Kovacs gave a presentation regarding the wolf management plan in Northern California to the boardroom and fielded some questions from supervisors and meeting attendees.
However, there was some discussion regarding believed lack of transparency with the wolves in the area and the protection of local ranchers and livestock.
Starting off the presentation, Kovacs named the five goals of the CDFW plan.
First is if wolves are established in the area, to seek to conserve biologically sustainable population of wolves in the state. Second will be to manage the distribution where there is adequate habitat. The third goal is to manage the ungulate population in the state to provide prey for the wolves and intrinsic enjoyment by the public and opportunities for hunters. Fourth is to manage wolf and livestock conflicts to minimize livestock losses. The fifth goal is to communicate to the public that natural dispersal of wolves is foreseeable.
Kovac also discussed various outreach efforts from the CDFW, as well as some grant funding to provide support in minimizing and avoiding livestock and wolves; however, she said the funding received was roughly $16,000 for one year.
The outreach efforts included updating local board of supervisors, regularly meeting with government agencies, workshops and groups and keeping information current on the CDFW website, as well having a place where people can report where wolves have been seen.
“We’re hoping as we get started here in California with wolf planning … we can get ahead of the game a little bit so we can be more proactive than reactive. Clearly we recognize there’s a big hurdle to jump over, one that namely has to do with trust in the department, trust in the departments abilities, all we can do is continue to put ourselves out there and show by our action that we’re willing to assist and talk to people,” Kovacs said.
During the meeting, CDFW wildlife supervisor Pete Figura also discussed wildlife investigations regarding deer and how that would affect the area.
Supervisor Chairman Jim Chapman inquired what the likelihood was of city deer brining wolves into populated areas. Figura answered evidence suggested wolves are pack hunters that don’t hang out around cities.
Figura also went on to discuss how wolves would be monitored in the area.
Recently, in November, two wolves were confirmed in Lassen County. Figura noted the CDFW’s goal would be to keep monitoring them.
However, the vagueness of the location mentioned for the wolves, stated only as being in western Lassen County, caused concern with some in the audience.
Don Armentrout, Lassen County Fish and Game Commission chairman, asked whether the information on wolf sightings was available to the public. Kovacs answered it was not.
“Because it’s a state and federally listed species, the department does not routinely distribute specific information on listed species,” Kovacs said.
“If you guys don’t want to work two ways, and be transparent, there’s going to be a lawsuit and you’re going to lose,” said Armentrout, mentioning a case in New Mexico not releasing specifics claiming the federal endangered species act, but lost.
“Our point is to provide information that is generalized enough,” said Kovacs, adding the number one goal was to protect the species, but also to protect private property owners.
“For us to release information about a species that’s on private property, number one, we know the public will be crawling all over that to get a picture of wolves. I don’t think we want to unduly encourage unlawful trespass onto private lands,” said Kovacs.
She continued when the Shasta Pack was in the state in 2015, the CDFW was talking with livestock and land owners within a ten mile radius of that location.
Kovacs also said the department applied for an exemption to release information from the governors office and received it, under a government code she could not remember the number of immediately.
Armentrout also said he was not looking for specific areas, just something more narrowed down from western Lassen County.
Local rancher Joe Egan also addressed the speakers from CDFW.
“I think there’s a very warranted lack of trust with the fish and game and the wolf advocates. I’ve been to a number of these meetings and there is, frankly, no way for livestock producers on the private lands to coexist with wolves,” Egan said.
Egan mentioned a study from Oregon State University that mentioned a cost per head to run cattle in a place with wolves was $380 per head. He brought up a University of Alberta study that indicted the diet of wolves was about 45 percent beef.
“For anybody that’s trying to convince you that there’s someway to run cattle on open range under the management that these folks are prescribing for wolves, it’s impossible … we will wither be out of business, or we will get rid of wolves on the public range,” Egan continued.
Figura said the Alberta study was included in the CDFW plan. He also said when wolves were suspected to be in an area, CDFW did contact the landowner to inform them of their potential presence.
Supervisor Jeff Hemphill asked what would happen in a situation where a deputy has to handle a wolf endangering public safety.
Kovacs answered if it were public safety, the state taking any action would be folly in her opinion.
At the end of the information only presentation the, Kovacs noted that the department has heard it all, and that no one was happy with the plan.
“I clearly recognize we have an uphill battle — especially in rural counties,” said Kovacs.