Published: February 10, 2022
Author(s): Industrial Economics, Incorporated
The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) proposes to revise chapter 220-440 of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) to codify a process for identifying and documenting the non-lethal deterrents that should be used to reduce the risk of wolf depredation in chronic wolf-livestock conflict areas through development of a Conflict Mitigation Plan for Chronic Conflict Areas1. Although the Conflict Mitigation Plan would not require any given livestock producer to implement non-lethal deterrents, WDFW would evaluate the efforts of livestock producers to integrate the recommendations in the Conflict Mitigation Plan in making decisions regarding lethal removal of a wolf. Additionally, beyond the Chronic Conflict Areas subject to the Conflict Mitigation Plans, changes to WAC 220-440-080 clarify that, in making decisions regarding lethal removal of wolves across the State of Washington more broadly, WDFW will consider whether an affected livestock producer has proactively implemented appropriate non-lethal deterrents.
Since gray wolves began recolonizing certain areas of Washington in 2008 and depredation on livestock was first documented, affected livestock producers have incurred costs, including lost revenues resulting from livestock mortalities and injuries, reduced weight gain and pregnancy rates of the livestock due to stress created by wolf presence, and the costs of implementation of non-lethal deterrents intended to reduce wolf depredation on livestock. Although WDFW and other state and federal government agencies and non-governmental organizations work with the industry to compensate them for some of these costs, overall, wolf presence and depredation have adversely affected some livestock producers.
Use of non-lethal deterrents has been a primary tool encouraged by WDFW and implemented by the industry to reduce wolf-livestock conflicts. The industry’s historical and ongoing use of non-lethal deterrents in the baseline (i.e., absent implementation of the proposed rule) is motivated primarily by livestock producers’ desire to protect their livestock from depredation. Use of non-lethal deterrents is also encouraged by other guidelines including contracts with WDFW under its Damage Prevention Cooperative Agreement for Livestock (DPCA_L) program, to maintain eligibility to receive compensation for livestock losses, and to act in accordance with the guidance of the Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol (Protocol), which stipulates that livestock producers are expected to implement at least two non-lethal deterrence measures.
Where livestock depredation repeatedly occurs, lethal removal of wolves may be needed to address the issue. Except in the event that a wolf is actively attacking livestock, only WDFW is authorized to kill a wolf as a preventative measure against livestock depredation. As a matter of current practice, for WDFW to consider lethal removal of wolves, affected livestock producers must demonstrate that they are taking earnest measures to deter wolves from their livestock. This would continue to be true under the proposed rule.
Given the extensive efforts to implement non-lethal deterrents by affected livestock producers and the need to demonstrate these actions for WDFW to consider lethal removal of wolves, it is likely that most businesses at relatively high risk of wolf-livestock conflicts would implement non-lethal deterrents absent the rule. Conversely, for businesses at relatively low risk of wolf-livestock conflicts, it is most likely they would not implement non-lethal deterrents regardless of this rulemaking. Therefore, for most businesses, this rule is unlikely to change decisions regarding implementation of non-lethal deterrents. Rather, it changes the process that prescribes their interactions with WDFW and WDFW’s deliberation process.
This analysis does find, however, that in some cases the rule may provide actionable information to industry regarding WDFW’s process that would trigger changes in behavior regarding use of non-lethal deterrents. Under these circumstances, the associated costs could be considered a result of the proposed rule. Specifically, WDFW’s development of Conflict Mitigation Plans and the clarification of the process through which lethal removal of wolves will be considered may encourage some livestock producers to be more proactive in implementing non-lethal deterrents. For these businesses, earnest attempts to implement non-lethal deterrents are likely to cost on the order of thousands to tens of thousands of dollars per year per business. Furthermore, WDFW indicates that human presence (including range riding) will continue to be a key focus of wolf-livestock conflict mitigation under the rule and this measure is the most expensive, ranging up to $55,000 per year. This constitutes a significant fraction of average industry revenues for businesses that may bear these costs and would be an untenable cost for the smallest businesses. Although public funds may be provided to offset some of the costs of range riding and implementation of other non-lethal deterrents, this assistance typically does not cover the full cost of these activities and is subject to availability.
Relative to the central questions of a Small Business Economic Impact Statement, this analysis finds the following:
Is the rule likely to impose more than minor costs on businesses in the industry?
Significant uncertainty exists regarding whether and to what extent the rulemaking will result in livestock producers implementing more or different non-lethal deterrents than they would absent the rule. That is, the rule is unlikely to result in costs for most businesses in the industry. However, the minor cost thresholds for the livestock producers that may incur costs due to the proposed rule (i.e., within counties currently experiencing depredation) range from $190 to $800. Given the costs of non-lethal deterrents, even a minimal increase in implementation of non-lethal deterrents for a given business would exceed the minor cost threshold. To the extent that the rule motivates a business to engage in additional or expanded use of non-lethal deterrents that they otherwise would not have done, the costs are likely to be more than minor.
Does the proposed rule cause a disproportionate impact on small businesses?
Ninety-eight percent of the regulated businesses in this industry are small (fewer than 50 employees). As a result, the rule is found to disproportionately impact small businesses.
1 Under the proposed rule, the WDFW Director or staff designee may designate a geographic area as a Chronic Conflict Area when wolf depredations of livestock have occurred, and lethal removal of wolves was authorized in two of the last three years.