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KEXP Mind Over Matters: Wolf conservation legislation, Jasmine Minbashian

— filed under:
By Diane Horn
KEXP FM

Interview with Conservation Northwest's Jasmine Minbashian on the status of Washington's wolves and wolf bills in the 2013 legislature.

KEXP Mind Over Matters: Wolf conservation legislation, Jasmine Minbashian

Wolf pup in the Cascades' Teanaway Pack. Image from 2012 BBC film

 

Listen to the show. This segment also ran on 2/23/13. Transcription:

My guest this morning is Jasmine Minbashian, special projects director for Conservation Northwest. Jasmine Minbashian is here today to evaluate wolf conservation in Washington State and tell us about wolf bills in the 2013 Washington State legislative session.

Why are wolves important to Washington State and to our Northwest ecosystems?

JM: Wolves are one of those animals that do need large areas to roam. In many cases they have large home ranges, so they need connected habitat to survive. So in some ways, if we're able to have wolves on our landscape, it's a sign that we’re doing something right, that there's still some land out there wild enough to have species like wolves, and in other cases wolverines and grizzlies, still in our mountains. So they're a symbol that we still have wild places and in some cases as well wolves play an important roll in the ecosystem. They're a top predator and a top predator has many effects down the food chain that affect the environment. There’s been some studies out in Yellowstone that suggest that the return of wolves has restored the habitat near streams and rivers and in turn beavers have returned and they have created more habitat for song birds and other species and cooler water for fish. There’s a trickle down effect if you will from wolves being back on the landscape and we're hoping to see some of those same responses here in Washington’s mountains.

Before we talk about how wolves are faring currently, would you briefly review the history of wolves in Washington State?

JM: Wolves were largely wiped out during the turn of the century and for the last 70 years we didn't think we had any wolves at all. It was in 2008 where one of Conservation Northwest's cameras - we have a remote camera program. We put our cameras to try to document the presence of rare and endangered species - on of our cameras documented six wolf pups and it was pretty amazing. So we worked with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and they were able to track the wolves down and confirm that these were indeed wild wolves. So that was the first documented pack in nearly 100 years in our state.

What is the current status of wolves in Washington State? How many wolves do we have here and how are they faring? 

JM: We've got anywhere between (depending on how you do your estimates) at lease 50 wolves, probably more up towards 100, somewhere in there. We've got about eight packs and four more suspected packs, so we have as many as possibly 12 packs. Most of those packs are found in the eastern third of the state. In the Cascades, we have two packs, one near the Methow Valley and one farther south just outside of Cleelum. And so that's basically the current state. I know the WDFW is in the process of doing their annual surveys, so we may have some updated information here in the near future.

How do you monitor for wolves? You mentioned the remote cameras, but what else?

JM: Well there are many different ways to try and track wolves, but remote cameras I'd say is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways and the simplest ways. The department has a lot resources invested at this early stage of recovery in our state. They're also using planes to fly over the landscape to help spot wolves and then they have field staff on the ground that actually is trying to capture wolves to place collars on them and that's a much more intensive effort that Conservation Northwest is not involved in. We leave that to the agency staff to deal with that.

So the wolves coming into Washington State, where are they coming from?

JM: That's a really interesting question. Wolves in the eastern part of the state in northeast Washington are primarily coming from Idaho and to the north from the Canadian Rockies. But the DNA research for the wolves in the Cascades has shown that those wolves are also related to BC coastal wolves. You can see that in the way they look. Generally coastal wolves are a little smaller and they’re a little more reddish brown and many of the wolves we’ve documented in the Cascades look very similar to BC coastal wolves.

What do wolves need in order to thrive?

JM: Wolves are habitat generalists, meaning that they can survive just about anywhere where they’re left alone. The biggest threat to wolf survival is really people or as some people like to say, metal, in the form of bullets or cars. The biggest threats are wolves getting shot or wolves getting hit by cars on highways and roads. We’ve already lost wolves in our state to both of those ways. We’ve had wolves in northeast Washington found dead on the road having been hit by cars and we’ve had wolves in the Cascades, a whole pack, lost to illegal killing, to poaching if you will. People are really the biggest threat to wolves. The best habitat for wolves is really a place they can be left alone.

Who has the responsibility for oversight for wolves in Washington State?

JM: Well in Washington State, the WDFW is responsible for recovering and managing wolves. In the western two-thirds of the state, they’re still currently listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, so the US Fish and Wildlife Service still plays a roll in their management, but they’ve largely deferred on the grounds operations to the state.

Washington State’s Wolf Recovery and Management Plan was developed in December of 2011. What are the key elements of that plan?

JM: The plan really is a recovery plan, so it guides the process of recovering in our state. Its not necessarily a long term management plan, but it basically sets out the conservation frame work for recovery. It specifically defines what recovered populations in the state looks like and in this case, they've defined it as 15 breeding pairs distributed throughout the state, so it’s not enough to have 15 pairs in the eastern half. We also need breeding pairs in the south Cascades and Olympics as well as in the north Cascades. So once we achieve that, wolves will be considered recovered. What it also does is provide tools to help prevent conflicts with people, basically with ranchers and with sportsmen. So it provides a whole framework for addressing any potential conflicts that could arise from having wolves back on the landscape. It also provides for some opportunities for environmental education and learning about wolves back on the landscape and what that means for our state. It’s a pretty comprehensive document and it was developed by a very large and diverse group of folks, all with different interests. It had a lot of citizen involvement and I think its turned out to be a very good document. I'd say its one of the best wolf recovery plans in the west so Washington should be really proud of itself for using this consensus approach and coming up with a really good plan.

Would you say more about how well the states wolf plan has worked out so far?

JM: We're just in the very beginning stages; I should say the WDFW is in the beginning stages of implementing the conservation and management plan, but I'd say, so far its mostly been going very well. There were some very early bumps in the road last summer when there was a conflict between a livestock operator in northeast Washington and the Wedge pack. I'm sure a lot of listeners may have heard about this. It got a lot of media coverage. But it basically presented the worst case scenario and it really tested the plan. For the most part I'd say the plan held up, but it did really highlight, for the public and the department, areas that needed to be strengthened. Specifically, there needed to be more accountability to the public on what livestock producers are going to do to prevent conflicts from occurring so that we don’t have to have the outcome that happened last summer, which was an entire pack had to be removed. It was quite tragic and its something that no one wants to see happen again. Since then there's been a lot of discussion and a lot of dialog among the conservation community and among livestock operators on how do we avoid that from happening again. And I'm please that out of that tragedy has come some really positive discussions and some good solutions.  We're seeing the result of that now in the state legislature.

Let’s talk now about wolf bills being considered in the 2013 Washington State Legislature. Which of the wolf bills in play do you support?

JM: Well there's quite a few we support and there’s quite a few we don’t. There are a lot of bills, but really the bills that are going to move forward in this legislative session are the ones that have the most support on both sides and that really comes down to two different bills: one would establish a new wolf plate -- you know the all the vanity plates you see out there on cars, pictures of eagles or elk and orca? If this bill passed you could buy a license plate with a picture of a wolf on it, and that money would to towards helping recover wolves in Washington State. So that's a bill we definitely support and it has broad support. Another bill we also support just helps provide more funding for some of those preventative methods that I had just mentioned. Making sure there are dedicated funds to help with both compensating ranchers who've lost livestock and also implementing preventative measures to avoid the conflicts in the first place. So those are the two bills I think have the strongest chance of passing this session and that we’re working hard to make sure that they do.

What were some of the bills that you’re against that perhaps don’t have a chance of passing?

JM: Well, unfortunately ever session I see a host of what I call the crazy bills, that are really some of the extreme ideas regarding wolves that are out there and a couple of examples in this session are one, I think it's called the county emergency bill. So any time there is an incident with wolves depredating on cattle, it would give the county the ability to declare a state of emergency and it would take the management of wolves out of out of the Department of Wildlife essentially and allow county sheriffs to deal with wolves, and this is just a bad idea because most sheriffs aren't trained wildlife biologists, they're not equipped in wildlife management and so you set yourself up to create a bigger problem rather than solve the problem.

JM: Wolves are habitat generalists, meaning that they can survive just about anywhere where they’re left alone. The biggest threat to wolf survival is really people or as some people like to say, metal, in the form of bullets or cars. The biggest threats are wolves getting shot or wolves getting hit by cars on highways and roads. We’ve already lost wolves in our state to both of those ways. We’ve had wolves in northeast Washington found dead on the road having been hit by cars and we’ve had wolves in the Cascades, a whole pack, lost to illegal killing, to poaching if you will. People are really the biggest threat to wolves. The best habitat for wolves is really a place they can be left alone.

Who has the responsibility for oversight for wolves in Washington State?

JM: Well in Washington State, the WDFW is responsible for recovering and managing wolves. In the western two-thirds of the state, they’re still currently listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, so the US Fish and Wildlife Service still plays a roll in their management, but they've largely deferred on the grounds operations to the state.

Washington State’s Wolf Recovery and Management Plan was developed in December of 2011. What are the key elements of that plan?

JM: The plan really is a recovery plan, so it guides the process of recovering in our state. Its not necessarily a long term management plan, but it basically sets out the conservation frame work for recovery. It specifically defines what recovered populations in the state looks like and in this case, they’ve defined it as 15 breeding pairs distributed throughout the state, so it’s not enough to have 15 pairs in the eastern half. We also need breeding pairs in the south Cascades and Olympics as well as in the north Cascades. So once we achieve that, wolves will be considered recovered. What it also does is provide tools to help prevent conflicts with people, basically with ranchers and with sportsmen. So it provides a whole framework for addressing any potential conflicts that could arise from having wolves back on the landscape. It also provides for some opportunities for environmental education and learning about wolves back on the landscape and what that means for our state. It's a pretty comprehensive document and it was developed by a very large and diverse group of folks, all with different interests. It had a lot of citizen involvement and I think its turned out to be a very good document. I’d say its one of the best wolf recovery plans in the west so Washington should be really proud of itself for using this consensus approach and coming up with a really good plan.

Would you say more about how well the states wolf plan has worked out so far?

JM: We're just in the very beginning stages; I should say the WDFW is in the beginning stages of implementing the conservation and management plan, but I'd say, so far its mostly been going very well. There were some very early bumps in the road last summer when there was a conflict between a livestock operator in northeast Washington and the Wedge pack. I'm sure a lot of listeners may have heard about this. It got a lot of media coverage. But it basically presented the worst case scenario and it really tested the plan. For the most part I'd say the plan held up, but it did really highlight, for the public and the department, areas that needed to be strengthened. Specifically, there needed to be more accountability to the public on what livestock producers are going to do to prevent conflicts from occurring so that we don’t have to have the outcome that happened last summer, which was an entire pack had to be removed. It was quite tragic and its something that no one wants to see happen again. Since then there's been a lot of discussion and a lot of dialog among the conservation community and among livestock operators on how do we avoid that from happening again. And I'm pleased that out of that tragedy has come some really positive discussions and some good solutions.  We're seeing the result of that now in the state legislature.

Let's talk now about wolf bills being considered in the 2013 Washington State Legislature. Which of the wolf bills in play do you support?

JM: Well there's quite a few we support and there’s quite a few we don't. There are a lot of bills, but really the bills that are going to move forward in this legislative session are the ones that have the most support on both sides and that really comes down to two different bills: one would establish a new wolf plate - you know the all the vanity plates you see out there on cars, pictures of eagles or elk and orca? If this bill passed you could buy a license plate with a picture of a wolf on it, and that money would to towards helping recover wolves in Washington State. So that's a bill we definitely support and it has broad support. Another bill we also support just helps provide more funding for some of those preventative methods that I had just mentioned. Making sure there are dedicated funds to help with both compensating ranchers who've lost livestock and also implementing preventative measures to avoid the conflicts in the first place. So those are the two bills I think have the strongest chance of passing this session and that we’re working hard to make sure that they do.

What were some of the bills that you're against that perhaps don’t have a chance of passing?

JM: Well, unfortunately ever session I see a host of what I call the crazy bills, that are really some of the extreme ideas regarding wolves that are out there and a couple of examples in this session are one, I think it's called the county emergency bill. So any time there is an incident with wolves depredating on cattle, it would give the county the ability to declare a state of emergency and it would take the management of wolves out of out of the Department of Wildlife essentially and allow county sheriffs to deal with wolves, and this is just a bad idea because most sheriffs aren’t trained wildlife biologists, they’re not equipped in wildlife management and so you set yourself up to create a bigger problem rather than solve the problem.

To hear the full discussion, please click link below.
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