PORT ANGELES - Representatives from fish and wildlife agencies from throughout the western United States and Canada are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to adopt more stringent controls on the importation of exotic animals that can spread disease to people, livestock and native wildlife.
On the last day of their annual meeting here, members of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) adopted a resolution stating that current measures have failed to prevent "the introduction of monkey pox and other exotic diseases that could be devastating to native wildlife."
Jeff Koenings, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and current WAFWA president, called recent actions by the USDA to restrict the importation of exotic animals "too little, too late."
"These exotic diseases - whether it's monkey pox in prairie dogs or chronic wasting disease in deer and elk - pose a major threat to our resources," Koenings said. "Just because they haven't arrived in Washington state doesn't mean we can rest easy."
The resolution urges the USDA to maintain records of outbreaks of animal diseases throughout the world and to require identification of all exotic wildlife owned in the United States.
Founded in 1922 as an interstate forum on issues of mutual concern, WAFWA now has a membership that includes fish and wildlife agencies from 19 western states and four Canadian provinces.
Other actions taken at this year's meeting, hosted by WDFW in Port Angeles, include:
- A memorandum of understanding among member states and provinces to assist one another in the apprehension of poachers;
- An exchange program for wildlife officers to facilitate the sharing of information and law-enforcement techniques; and
- A petition to the USDA to allow hunters to bring legally harvested animals from Canada into the United States, since there is no scientific evidence to suggest that doing so would spread disease.
Before taking action on specific measures, WAFWA members heard a variety of perspectives on the role healthy fish and wildlife populations play in regional economic development.
Jim Waldo, chief water policy adviser to Washington Gov. Gary Locke, said it would be a mistake to view Washington's salmon-recovery efforts as a constraint on economic development.
"In many parts of the state, healthy salmon populations are the centerpiece for economic development," Waldo said.
He and other speakers cited a study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that found that fishing, hunting and wildlife watching contributed nearly $2.2 billion to Washington state's economy in 2001. That figure includes $854 million from fishing, $350 million from hunting and $980 million from wildlife watching activities.
"I think we all have a responsibility to consider economic factors in the decisions we make about resource management, so long as they are consistent with the goal of maintaining healthy fish and wildlife populations," Koenings said.
Bill Wilkerson, executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association, said the timber industry has fared far better in recent years by negotiating with resource managers rather than contesting issues in court.
"We've come a long way as an industry since the days of the spotted owl dispute," Wilkerson said. "I think everyone recognizes the need to compromise and work together."
Billy Frank, Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, said he, too, has seen considerable progress toward cooperative management of Washington's resources in the 30 years he has worked as a tribal fisheries leader.
"Working together, we brought the eagle back (from depressed levels) and we can do the same for our wild salmon," Frank said. "But it's not going to happen in two years or four years. It takes a long-time commitment. It's important we talk about these things - and tell the story - as resource managers working together."