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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Cascade wolves to lose federal protection

Conservation Northwest believes delisting is premature

Today the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it plans to remove Endangered Species Act protection for gray wolves within the year. Conservation Northwest supports protecting wolves in the coterminous US under the Endangered Species Act until they have fully recovered, especially vulnerable packs such as those returning to Washington’s Cascade Mountains. The Service's proposal to remove protections for all wolves living outside of the Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes, and a small area in the Southwest is a political decision that isn’t justified by science.

Cascade wolves to lose federal protection

Wolves from the area of the Lookout Pack, caught on USFS remote camera last year. Several of the original pack members were illegally killed in 2009. Photo: USFS

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Jun 07, 2013

Today the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it plans to remove Endangered Species Act protection for gray wolves within the year. Conservation Northwest supports protecting wolves in the coterminous US under the Endangered Species Act until they have fully recovered, especially vulnerable packs such as those returning to Washington’s Cascade Mountains. The Service's proposal to remove protections for all wolves living outside of the Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes, and a small area in the Southwest is a political decision that isn’t justified by science. 

“The decision to remove federal protections for Pacific Northwest wolves is premature,” said Dave Werntz, conservation and science director for Conservation Northwest. “With less than twenty wolves in the Cascade Range, recovery of this unique population remains uncertain.”

The few wolves in the western half of Washington in the Cascades would lose federal protection under the delisting proposal, making this fragile population more vulnerable and potentially setting back recovery and state delisting. Currently, there are only three confirmed packs and two confirmed breeding pairs in the Cascade Range, which spans from Washington to northern California. For wolves to be considered recovered and delisted under Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, there would need to be at least eight breeding pairs in Washington's Cascades, a benchmark that could delayed if wolves are federally delisted and become the target of increased killings.

Without federal protections, legal lethal removal of wolves thought to be involved in livestock depredations could be used more easily under the state plan and without the deterrent of more stiff fines and potential jail time that poachers face for killing federally protected wildlife.

Scientists have also pointed to the fact that the wolves returning to western Washington in the Cascades are different from wolves in the Northern Rockies and include descendants of wolves living in coastal British Columbia, who lived separately from inland wolves for many generations.  Over time, the coastal wolves adapted to local climatic and habitat conditions, creating a unique genetic profile.  In addition to carrying DNA from coastal British Columbia, our Cascade wolves are different than those in the Rockies in other ways too: they are smaller in size; more reddish brown in color; and eat more salmon when available. 

“Wolves perform a crucial role in maintaining wildlife diversity and ecosystem function. The Service’s decision to turn their backs on wolves means millions of acres of habitat will remain empty and without the benefits from wolves for years to come.”

Wolves west of the Rockies are pretty scarce, and at a fragile stage. Conservation Northwest believes that loss of protection now could put at risk “seed” packs like the Teanaway and Wenatchee Pack that are critical to establishing a viable population in the Cascades and Coast.  In 2008, the Lookout Pack was nearly wiped out due to illegal poaching.  Their story was chronicled in a feature documentary produced by the British Broadcasting Company and Discovery Channel.

Washington does have a quality state plan that calls for recovery in the Cascades/Coast, but its penalties for poaching a wolf are minimal and subject to local politics. Without the more strict penalties that come with Endangered Species Act protection (up to $50,000 and a year in jail), discouraging illegal killing is much more of a challenge.

While Conservation Northwest opposes delisting of wolves in the Pacific Northwest, we recognize that Washington could likely reach recovery goals sooner due to its proximity to source populations (Idaho, and both coastal and inland British Columbia). It would therefore be important for western Washington to have increased management flexibility and state management authority after recovery objectives had been reached in the state rather than waiting for all populations south of the Columbia River to recover.

We call on the Service to recognize Washington’s Cascades and Pacific Coast wolves as a distinct population, and to list them as a "threatened" species. This approach would allow all the aspects of the Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan to be fully implemented, while allowing for higher federal poaching fines and greater accountability to recovery goals.

Conservation Northwest has been leading the effort to recover wolves in Washington State. In 2008, the organization's volunteers helped confirm the first known pack to breed in the state in over 70 years. Today, Conservation Northwest has partnered with three ranches to help employ range riders to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock.

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