Statement on legal action involving the Togo Wolf Pack
ConservationNWAdmin / Aug 23, 2018 / News Releases, Range Riding, Restoring Wildlife, Wolves
August 30th Update: Our staff and range riders have been in the field day and night working to prevent further livestock conflicts in the Togo Pack’s territory. Read more.
IN RESPONSE TO LEGAL ACTION BETWEEN THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE AND GROUPS FROM OREGON AND ARIZONA WHO HAVE FILED LITIGATION OVER THE WOLF-LIVESTOCK INTERACTION PROTOCOL DEVELOPED BY THE STATE’S WOLF ADVISORY GROUP (WAG), CONSERVATION NORTHWEST, A WAG MEMBER ORGANIZATION BASED IN WASHINGTON WITH MORE THAN A DECADE OF LEADERSHIP ON WOLF CONSERVATION AND COEXISTENCE, ISSUED THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT:
“Lawsuits and polarization haven’t worked out well for wolves elsewhere, so we see little upside in spreading those tactics to Washington, where wolf recovery is going relatively well overall” said Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest Executive Director. “Instead of polarization, our focus is on collaboration and long-term coexistence.”
We believe conservationists, animal advocates, hunters, recreationists, ranchers, Native American nations and other wildlife stakeholders are best served by seeking common ground and working together towards win-win solutions. To collaborate in this manner requires recognizing and accepting the diverse values our wildlife and public lands provide for all parties. Our goal remains the long-term recovery and public acceptance of wolves alongside thriving local communities. By many measures, both quantitative and qualitative, wolf recovery is going well in Washington.
Population Growth: Washington’s wolf population has grown from no packs in 2007, to at least 22 packs and at least 122 wolves at the end of 2017. Two additional packs have since been confirmed, bringing the current minimum pack count to 24. The number of breeding pairs jumped from ten in 2016 to 14 in 2017, the largest increase in ten years here. Wolves in northeast Washington are considered part of the larger Northern Rockies population; linked to large wolf populations in Canada and the Rocky Mountain states.
Human-caused mortality: People kill wolves in Rocky Mountain States at a rate five times higher than in Washington. An average of 6.1 wolves have died per year in Washington from the combination of lethal control (by the state), vehicle collisions, poaching, unknown causes, and tribal hunting. Last year, only eight wolves were lawfully killed in Washington: three through WDFW action, two were shot while caught in act of livestock depredation, and three from legal tribal hunting. These 2017 incidents of state control occurred through use of a clearly stated, deliberate approach to incremental removal: Only one wolf was removed in one operation, and two in another. In both cases, no more depredations occurred during the rest of the season. Compared to the Rocky Mountains, these numbers are small. In 2009 (12 years after wolf reintroduction), Montana killed 145 wolves and another 75 were killed by hunters, totaling 28 percent of their population. By 2015, both Montana and Idaho removed an estimated 33 percent and 31 percent respectively. That level of mortality is what we are trying to prevent in Washington through collaboration to build trust and uptake of effective proactive deterrence measures so rural residents can live with wolves without fear of losing their livelihoods.
Washington’s recovering wolf population can easily withstand the current level of impact. Modeling completed under the 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (see Appendices G and H) looked at the level of mortality Washington’s wolf population could sustain and still meet recovery objectives. They found that if lethal action removed 7.5 percent of wolves in the state’s Eastern Recovery Zone per year, in addition to other human-caused mortality, recovery objectives would still be met.
While we never like to see wolves killed, and invest a lot of effort to prevent the need for lethal removal and motivations for poaching, we do not think that the current level of lethal removal is risking recovery of the wolf population in Washington.
Collaboration: Collaboration provides a better future for wolves here than does polarizing litigation. CNW’s views are informed by social science literature, through which we believe that collaboration works far better for both wolves and people than treating other stakeholders in an antagonistic manner. That is a key reason we have participated in the Wolf Advisory Group. The WAG, through careful deliberation, developed procedures that put heavy emphasis on methods to deter wolves from depredating on livestock before lethal measures are considered. No other U.S. state invested as heavily in both involving citizens collaboratively in its decisions and in non-lethal conflict avoidance. It’s also why we have invested heavily in on-the-ground work with ranchers through our Range Rider Pilot Project, using skilled human presence, or range riding, for herd monitoring and management.
We think the collaborative work of the WAG is leading to less social conflict concerning wolves and more willingness of ranchers to embrace proactive techniques to lower both wolf-livestock conflict and the use of lethal removal. More than 300 ranches are employing some type of proactive deterrence measures this year, and demand exceeds available funding, even with robust support from the legislature. That’s a change from four years ago when there was palpable resistance except for a handful of ranchers willing to take a risk.
This is real progress towards the long-term recovery and public acceptance of wolves alongside thriving local communities in our state, and an important model for coexistence between people and wildlife.