Wolves: Commissioners want to de-list; WDFW wants to reclassify
In their previous petition, the county commissioners argued that the wolves presently in Washington are not native to the state and questioned the rationale for the protected status. The new petition relies primarily on the decision of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to remove some wolves from its endangered list.
The Okanogan County commissioners are making a second attempt to convince the state to remove the gray wolf from its endangered species list, this time in conjunction with commissioners from six other Eastern Washington counties.
The main impact of de-listing would be that Washington could ultimately establish a hunting season for wolves, according to Dave Ware, Game Division manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Okanogan County commission chair Jim DeTro signed the petition for the board, which urges the director of WDFW to de-list the gray wolf based on the change in its federal status and the growing number of wolves in Washington, particularly in Eastern Washington. The federal government removed the wolf in 2009 from its list of endangered species in the Northern Rocky Mountain region, which includes the eastern third of Washington.
“These additional packs positively augment the conclusive federal data that the wolf is recovered in eastern Washington and is no longer ‘failing, declining, or vulnerable’ as required in State law for delisting,” they argue in the petition, written by the Eastern Washington Council of Governments, which includes seven counties in North-Central and Northeastern Washington.
The petition has been circulating to the member county commissioners for signatures and is expected to be sent to the WDFW director this week, according to Mallory Conner, administrative assistant for the Council. Because a similar request was recently rejected by the director, the group will probably review the petition at their meeting on Friday (Jan. 25) before it is sent, she said.
Both the Okanogan County commissioners and the Council of Governments have previously petitioned the director to de-list the gray wolf, but the director denied the request, concluding that the number of wolves was not sufficient to constitute a healthy, self-sustaining population.
The new request comes at a time when Washington’s wolf population has almost doubled, from 27 animals last year to 51 this year, and gone from three to five breeding pairs. The Methow’s Lookout Pack still has the same two animals, which biologists have been tracking and hope will breed next year, said Ware (see accompanying story). Since these numbers are for animals actually counted, the total wolf population could be larger – between 60 and 100, based on average pack size, said Ware.
According to the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, recovery requires distribution of wolves throughout the state. All the wolves counted so far are in the North Cascades (two packs and one breeding pair) and Eastern Washington (six packs and four breeding pairs), with none in the third recovery area, the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast region. The plan calls for 15 breeding pairs (a male and female, plus two pups) – four in each of three regions in the state, plus three more anywhere in the state – for three consecutive years.
Even after removal from the state’s endangered list, an animal remains protected, according to Madonna Luers, public information officer for WDFW. In fact, virtually all wildlife in the state is protected and can only be hunted during a licensed season, she said.
Washington law does not permit an endangered listing for just part of the state, and wildlife managers cannot take animal populations from other states into account, said Ware.
Commissioners question motives
Commissioners DeTro and Ray Campbell, who attended WDFW wolf meetings in Spokane and Olympia respectively, also submitted their own letters to the agency.
Both made similar points, stating that establishing recovery areas that follow state lines or other geographic boundaries “makes no sense from a biological perspective” and that the wolf population cannot be viewed in isolation from that in neighboring states or Canada. “To do so only creates justification for those who insist the wolf must remain listed. I for one agree with those who believe the motivation for leaving the wolf listed is to give greater weight to the applications for grant money for land acquisition,” wrote Campbell.
In their previous petition, submitted in 2011, the county commissioners argued that the wolves presently in Washington are not native to the state and questioned the rationale for the protected status. The new petition relies primarily on the decision of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to remove some wolves from its endangered list.
Several cattlemen’s organizations have also unsuccessfully petitioned the state for de-listing over the past several years.
Lawmakers look at wolves
The petition coincides with legislation proposed by WDFW that would allocate increased funding for wolf management and restitution and reclassify the wolf as big game. Wildlife classifications can be confusing, as the Legislature can classify an animal but only the Fish and Wildlife Commission can authorize hunting seasons. But a legislative classification as “big game” would be a first and necessary step toward a hunting season for wolves, said Ware. Several other animals, both hunted and endangered species, already have a legislative big-game classification, including deer, elk, grizzly bear and woodland caribou.
If approved, the new law would raise about $100,000 a year through a new wolf license plate. The money would be used to assist property owners in minimizing wolf-livestock conflicts, said Ware. Another $50,000 would come from personalized license plates and be used to compensate livestock owners for animals killed by wolves. It would create a permanent fund and extend compensation to non-commercial livestock owners and include animals such as llamas. It would not cover pets.
WDFW currently has a $350,000 annual budget for wolf management. This bill would add $150,000; another $150,000 is expected from the federal government, said Ware.
The carnivore-management bill has bipartisan support in the House and was introduced in committee by state Rep. Joel Kretz (R, Wauconda) on Monday (Jan. 21), but Fish and Wildlife is still seeking support in the Senate, said Ware.
Kretz has introduced a separate bill advocating translocation of some wolves to Western Washington, where he claims support for the animals is more widespread. The bill reads in part: “This bounty has been geographically limited to areas in eastern Washington and the entire citizenship of the state has not been fully able to enjoy the reestablishment of this majestic species.”
The wolf-management plan includes translocation as a tool to aid in recovery, but moving wolves would require an environmental analysis and public input, said Luers.
Another bill introduced this session would allow livestock operators to kill a predator without a license or special permission.
Sheriff to investigate attacks
After a request from the Okanogan County Cattlemen’s Association at the county commissioners’ meeting on Jan. 14, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers agreed to assist WDFW in investigating wolf depredations to make the investigations more timely.
In their letters to WDFW, DeTro and Campbell said that WDFW has a lack of credibility in the eyes of ranchers and that reports of wolf attacks on livestock had been met with skepticism. “Accordingly we have directed our staff to create protocols to facilitate Okanogan County citizens reporting wolf related issues. We have also requested the Sheriff pursue appropriate training for his deputies to investigate reports of wolf attacks on livestock,” wrote DeTro.
Methow ranchers Bernard and Dianne Thurlow, who lost one replacement heifer to a wolf attack and had two injured calves, settled in December with WDFW for compensation. The Thurlows received $1,295 for the three animals plus several hundred dollars for additional travel costs to check on their cattle more frequently, according to Ware.
The Thurlows were the first to be compensated by WDFW for wolf depredation since 2007. WDFW has since worked with cattlemen’s organizations to develop a system for compensation based on current market value.