Meet Washington’s conflict specialists
WDFW employs conflict specialists in each region to help Washingtonian’s with negative human-wildlife interactions. These interactions are sometimes as simple as raccoons in trash cans but are often more complex — like a baby black bear eating neighborhood chickens.
Conflict specialists respond to reports of wildlife property damage, potential public safety issues, and help educate the public about non-lethal techniques to resolve negative interactions with wildlife.
Here’s a look at just one day in the life of Conflict Specialist Matt Blankenship.
Hiking with hooves
Our first stop of the day was driving out to Eatonville to meet a youth hunter. Conflict specialists can issue permits to landowners who are experiencing elk damage to their private property. The damage prevention permit allows them to work with a youth hunter to harvest an elk on their land.
When Matt arrives around 8:30, the 16-year-old youth hunter and his dad are field dressing a cow elk. Matt talks to the hunters about their hunt and examines the elk hooves. He notices a small lesion on the right-rear hoof and shows the spot to the hunters.
Because Matt suspected treponeme-associated hoof disease in the animal, he removes and hikes out with hooves in tow. Matt documents the date, time, and location of the harvest and later submits the hooves to our other WDFW staff for evaluation at the next yearly hoof sort.
When WDFW conflict specialists work with landowners, they work out a contract to explore non-lethal deterrents to help minimize damage caused by wildlife, and sometimes possible lethal removals under specified circumstances.
This involves home visits to explain the process, contracts, and retrieve signatures. It can also involve meeting people at odd hours. Because it was a holiday week, Matt’s next visit was with a farmer available sign paperwork during regular business hours.
Next on his list was helping a landowner on the Olympic Peninsula. The landowner was having issues with a bear damaging his chicken coop in order to find food. Matt explained how inexpensive fencing around the chicken coop can be a simple way to reduce conflicts between bears and people.
When possible, Matt loans fencing supplies to landowners for a week or two until they have time to buy their own. He teaches them how to setup the electric fence and secure the area. Conflict specialists work with landowners to mitigate these conflicts quickly. If the bear begins to associate humans with food, it will likely become a public safety issue for WDFW Enforcement.
The last stop was just south of Hoodsport. Matt had reports from a landowner that experienced elk damage near the Skokomish River. Matt was hoping to corroborate that report with a sighting. It’s not uncommon to see dozens of elk bedded down in the fields in the area this time of year.
Unfortunately, the day was damp and dreary, with no elk to be found. Matt guesses that many elk had moved into the trees to escape the downpour.
Managing conflict in Region 6
Matt is one of two conflict specialists working in in WDFW’s South Sound/Olympic Peninsula (Region 6). He covers seven counties — Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason, Pierce, Thurston, and some of Lewis county.
About 1.7 million people live in these seven counties, and Matt’s job is to give them the tools and information to help minimize conflicts with wildlife.
Without conflict specialists like Matt, there would be increased problems between people and wild animals statewide. If you’re experiencing negative wildlife interactions contact your regional conflict specialists at: https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/regional-offices,
Find out more about WDFW’s proposed budget requests, including funding for conflict specialists on our website: https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/administration/budget/update.