Jan. 21, 2009

Canis lupus still protected by state law, ESA in Methow and west

By Joyce Campbell

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced its decision to remove gray wolves from the federal endangered species list in the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, all of Montana and Idaho, a small part of north-central Utah and the western Great Lakes region.

The decision is expected to take effect 30 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register this week, and does not include wolves in Wyoming, which will remain federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Wolves will remain protected as a state endangered species throughout Washington state, according to Tom Buckley, external affairs officer with the USFWS. On the east side of Highways 97 and 17, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has full and total management authority, including lethal control. On the west side of that boundary, the state wildlife agency is required to coordinate with the federal agency if lethal control is needed. In any case of livestock/wolf conflict, the USFWS would probably get involved, said Buckley.

Estimates in mid-September 2008 indicated a population of 1,453 gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population (360 in Montana, 771 in Idaho, and 332 in Wyoming) in 97 breeding pairs. The numbers are about five times higher than the minimum population recovery goals and three times higher than the breeding pair recovery goal. The population has exceeded recovery goals for nine consecutive years, according to the agency.

A court order in July 2008 reversed an earlier decision by the agency to de-list wolves. Conservation groups challenged the de-listing, arguing that scientists have determined that a healthy, sustainable population needs to number 2,000 to 5,000 wolves.

The agency removed federal protection in the states of Montana and Idaho, citing that state laws, management plans and regulations meet the requirements of the ESA and will conserve a recovered wolf population into the foreseeable future. It reviewed the July 2008 court order and determined that Wyoming’s management plans and regulations were not adequate to meet the requirements of the ESA.

In 2008, wildlife officials confirmed the first gray wolf pack in Washington state since the 1930s. The Lookout Pack moved into the Methow Valley from Canada and is being monitored by wildlife biologists and conservation groups. The state is developing a draft wolf conservation and management plan that will be ready in June 2009 for public review and comment.

To report wolf observations or wolf/livestock conflicts call the toll-free state wolf hotline at (888) 584-9038.