State trying to balance rising wolf population with ranchers’ concerns for livestock

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CLE ELUM, Wash. -- The population of gray wolves is on the rise in Washington. Now the problem for the state is trying to balance the wolf`s recovery with the needs of ranchers in danger of losing livestock.

In the lush Teanaway Valley, cows amble along and graze. But rancher Sam Kayser knows the wolves are close.

"We just had one of our animals killed. State and federal wildlife officials confirmed it," he said.

It's that kind of interaction that state and federal wildlife officials hope to minimize.

"Our biggest challenge has been on the people side -- trying to manage or reduce conflict with producers," said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Donny Martorello.

State wildlife wolf specialist Scott Becker spends months tracking the new wolf packs across the state -- at least 68 gray wolves are now roaming Washington state.

But before the GPS, or radio collar, can go on, he first has to trap a wolf.

"We're constantly monitoring wolves, wolf packs, so that we know where to lay those traps in the ground," said Becker.

Officials remind ranchers the wolves are still a protected species in the state -- and anyone caught killing one could face steep fines and possible jail time.

"Clearly, we don`t want livestock producers to take matters into their own hands," Martorello said.

Some ranchers could be compensated for losses, but only if they work with state officials to minimize run-ins.

Wildlife officials could end up resettling or euthanizing wolves that repeatedly eat livestock.

But for Kayser, the wolf`s resurgence in Washington is a chance to learn how to co-exist with one of nature`s most majestic creatures.

"It`s just another challenge," Kayser said. "We have enough habitat for the amount of wolves we have."