04. January 2024 · Comments Off on Ag and Rural Caucus – January 2024 · Categories: Committee News, Recent Events

Ag and Rural Caucus for January

We start 2024 with good news. We have progress on two legacy ARC issues.

Under the Better Practices heading we take up exciting progress on devising a solution for replacing barges on the Lower Snake for getting wheat to market. We started this work in 2019 by organizing a conference at Ice Harbor Dam.

For our Policy Briefing we revisit the Wolf-Cattle issue in Northeast Washington to report grudging progress. The wolf population is healthy and producers “have accepted that wolves are on the land and are there to stay.” Our first meeting on wolf-cattle management was in January 2018 in Colville. We repeated via Zoom in October 2020.

For each session I am able to work with friends. Bill Moyer, Solutionary Rail, will lead our Better Practices session. Jay Shepherd in Colville is organizing our meeting on Wolf management, as he did in 2020.

Please join us when you are interested and able. Invite your friends when inclined. All are welcome. Contact me if you would like the link to a meeting recording. You can check up on recent mailing by going to the posts on the website: arcwashdems.wordpress.com

Happy New Year,

29 December 2023
January Schedule

Better Practices
6:30 pm Thursday 4 January
: Rail solution to barges on Lower Snake River
Bill Moyer, Solutionary Rail
Thomas White, Climate Rail Alliance


Policy Briefing
6:30 pm Thursday 18 January
Managing Wolves and Cattle in NE Washington


Paste link into browser or click heading to go to meeting.
Data plus Administration
Data make a difference. And the data for wolf recovery in NE Washington are impressive. So much so that WDFW staff is recommending to the Commission a downlisting of wolves to “sensitive.” It is now up to the Commission.
Wolf count continues to rise. Livestock killed or injured roughly level, and greater than WDFW wolf removals in all years.
What about the politics behind administration? Julia Smith, Endangered Species Recovery Section Manager, Wildlife Program, wrote last October that “the number of livestock producers in Washington implementing proactive, non-lethal deterrence measures has markedly increased. Mitigating livestock depredation by wolves is critical to acceptance of wolves by local communities.”(emphasis added)

It seems that having cooperation on the ground helps move the program ahead.

It is important to report the other side of the political pressure. Ms. Smith was responding to a petition from advocacy groups that WDFW engage in rule-making to govern more precisely non-lethal practices and the rules for lethal removal. She noted that the current petition was the fifth similar petition from the same groups. The previous petition for rule making was endorsed by the governor. WDFW’s subsequent process elicited 10,000 comments. Of a subset of the comments, “SEPA-associated comments…WDFW received over 7,500 written submissions. Over 6,700 of these submissions were copies of or slight variations of one form letter and over 700 submissions were copies of or slight variations of another form letter.”

Back to data: “most wolf packs in Washington are not implicated in livestock depredation (86% on average over 14 years).”

This sounds like good news.

16 January 2024
Wolf Management in North East Washington
When we first started looking at wolves and cattle in Stevens and Ferry counties one version of the question was simple: Why should we require cattle operators to lose calves to wolves reintroduced by Puget Sound wildlife advocates? The issue was sharpened by the refusal of the cattle operators to accept compensation for their economic loss because that would mean that they accepted the state’s policy of bringing the wolves back. On the other side, there were claims that cattle operators were deliberately pasturing their herds where they knew they would take losses.

There was mutual hostility between among the bureaucrats, the cattle operators, and the wolf advocates. No one trusted the other.

Where are we now? Has familiarity worn the edges off? Has the policy succeeded?

Just maybe. Just maybe wolf policy in the northern counties is good news. Julia Smith, presenting a Periodic Status Review last summer declared “Wolves are doing great…The species is gaining population.”

How about the people? How are they doing? Jay Shepard, our guest host, wrote in the Spokesman Review, “This part of the story – collaboration, work and stress – hasn’t made it out to the general public. It’s a story about hard work, tough conversations, and eventual trust and friendships. Not sensational but it’s a remarkable story that needs telling.”

He writes “we are working on potential paths forward, paths that include both cattle and wolves.”

This is a story not just about wolf recovery in the northern counties but also a story about the evolution of an issue. What Jay is reporting is a world apart from our initial conversations in Colville. The hostility of the ranchers then was on display, and easy to understand. Lack of trust in the WDFW wildlife managers was palatable. And, in language more familiar to us today, ranchers felt they were disrespected.

You do not hear quite the same language today in the northern counties. A prominent advocate for the ranchers now sits on WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group.

Move to southeast Washington and you still do hear some the same rhetoric. You also continue to hear uncompromising language from some wildlife advocates (see box below).

Join Jay and Representative Joel Kretz (R-LD7) Thursday to hear the good news of wolf-cattle interaction and how the issue may have evolved in the northern counties. We can query, too, whether the rest of us need to catch up with their evolution.

12 January 2024
A Long Story….with a Happy Ending

Back in 2018 I arrived at a September Democratic Central Committee meeting expecting a routine weekend.  Meeting in a corridor, a friend leans over and asks if I know about the resolution to remove the Lower Snake River dams. Of course, I did not. But the same thing had happened at the previous meeting in June, except then the dams were to be removed by December. Ken Caylor, chair of the resolutions committee, at that time had managed to table the resolution.

I reached out to Steve Verhey who knew the authors of the resolution. We talked about how devastating the resolution was to our struggling Democratic candidates and how we could get away from “gotcha” resolutions in the future. Steve thought he could table the resolution if I could commit to “accepting in principle” that the dams might be removed. I agreed, and Steve delivered. I was comfortable with the idea that the dam question would be settled by data and analysis.

Steve and I met later that spring in Mattawa at La Popular restaurant to hash out a plan of what would have to be done in advance if the dams were removed. At the time we thought navigation/barging was the most tractable element of the dam question. We were wrong.

The barging issue turned out to be the least tractable. The Ag and Rural Caucus went to work on how to replace the power the dams produced, studied the agricultural and recreation sides of the issue, and evaluated the claims that the dams were responsible for the failing salmon runs. Along the way, we developed the idea of ex ante mitigation to hedge the region’s bet on the dams.

We failed, though, to get anyone to talk to us about how to replace the barges. ARC punted on the barge issue until the Corps released its EIS on operation of the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The Corps report was impressive. It reported much of the data we had been seeking, couched in a pessimistic assessment of the effects of dam breaching on the price of moving Palouse wheat. One part of the picture was missing, however. There was no development of the fact that the State of Washington owns a patchwork of short line rail in the Palouse and the rail cars that go along with moving grain. WSDOT, likewise, showed no interest in investing in its owned asset to address possible loss of the barges. For WSDOT, it was business as usual, and slow business at that.

Maybe two years ago, I recall complaining to Senator Murray’s person in Spokane about the lack of serious analysis of WSDOT short line capability. I said, “No one is doing this analysis.”

Again, I was wrong. And this is the happy ending to this story. A couple of months later, Bill Moyer and Solutionary Rail, reached out to me with a fantastic set of slides documenting in detail the condition of the WSDOT short lines. I have forgotten how and why we got in touch.  I do not know, either, how a group of rail enthusiasts from Puget Sound have become so committed to making something work for us in eastern Washington.

What we will talk about Thursday is Solutionary Rail’s detailed plan of creating a Sprague to Pasco Short Line Access Corridor, building on WSDOT rail, that breaks the monopolies enjoyed by the mainlines and sets the stage for a full short line alternative for moving grain to a terminal at Pasco.

This story also comes around to the beginning. Ormand Hilderbrand and I were invited early last fall to join the Environment and Climate Caucus, chaired by Steve Verhey, to work with Lael White and Thomas While to develop a resolution supporting a rail alternative to barging on the Snake. This is the resolution for which I asked your advice last November. It is going to the Central Committee meeting at the end of January.

2 January 2024

For a more accurate picture of what happened back in 2018, I link my Thinking the Unthinkable update I wrote at the time.

Our Better Practices roundtable is on the first Thursday of each month at 6:30 pm.. Use the link above for 2024.

Our Policy Series is on the third Thursday of each month at 6:30 pm. Use the link above for 2024

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Ag and Rural Caucus of State Democratic Central Committee
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Ag and Rural Caucus
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