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Harvest was just around the corner at the Nunamaker Ranch near Washtucna when this photo was taken.
Photo by Grady Gfeller

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FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Balancing the needs of wildlife between public, private concerns

April 2017
By Trista Crossley


While Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Stephen Pozzanghera acknowledges there are conflicts between elk and landowners in Asotin County, he describes it as a distribution problem, rather than a population problem.

“If you think about the Blue Mountains as an overall ecosystem, I think what you’ll hear from a population standpoint is that we like where the Blue Mountain herd is as a whole. What we have in the Cloverland area is a distribution problem. We know that elk are not scattered across the landscape evenly, so because of landowners in ag businesses and attractive crops close to both the wildlife area and the U.S. Forest Service’s National Forest, we have a distribution problem,” he said, adding that the distribution problem was made worse this winter by significant snow depths that pushed elk onto private land.

Pozzanghera is the director of WDFW’s region 1, an area that encompasses the 10 eastern-most counties in Washington where the department owns or manages nearly 114,000 acres. The department is charged with protecting and preserving wildlife for the public, and it has to adhere to that mission while still working with landowners to resolve conflicts.

“We cannot sustain a public that does not support wildlife, so we very much need private landholders to embrace wildlife, to support wildlife. These animals do not know boundaries, and so we have to create this relationship with private landowners where we can work together. When wildlife comes in conflict with those individuals, we have to be responsive,” he explained.

Pozzanghera cautioned against implementing costly, long-term solutions based on this year’s unusually harsh winter, including the idea of a feeding program. He said that is a discussion the department needs to have, and it’s not something that can be implemented at a moment’s notice. Starting to feed elk and deer too far into winter does not help since they need time to adjust to a change in diet.

Besides a feeding program, building an elk fence is another solution WDFW has talked about. All the options, Pozzanghera said, have costs associated with them that go far beyond the initial expense, such as maintenance of the fence or hiring new employees to manage a feeding program. Grazing and targeted timber harvest on wildlife areas and forest lands to improve elk habitat are being used, but can be subject to public misunderstanding.

“I think we have to do a better job of educating the public about why they may see cows in a wildlife area,” he said, adding that having informational signs to explain why the livestock is there and how wildlife and grazing can be compatible would help educate the public. “We aren’t there to produce livestock, but where livestock are compatible with Fish and Wildlife values, and where livestock can be grazed on department lands, we are looking for those opportunities.”

One of the complaints leveled against WDFW by growers in Asotin County is that the department is dismissing their concerns or not taking them very seriously. Pozzanghera quickly objected to that idea, saying that they are well aware of the issues and have been for some time.

“I think our field response has been appropriate, and I think locally, the staff has done an excellent job of responding to the situation as well as keeping me, keeping their supervisors informed. There is a lot of communication on this issue,” he said.

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