Oct. 14, 2009

By Joyce Campbell

Wolves have returned to Washington State after 70 years of extirpation and state wildlife managers are seeking public comments on their draft plan to manage and conserve the species.

The 300-page document released for comment on Oct. 5 is the work of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff, the state’s Working Wolf Group, a scientific peer review group and the public, said Madonna Luers, eastern Washington public information officer for the WDFW. The document includes a 96-page draft environmental impact statement with four alternatives. The bulk of the document, details the state’s preferred alternative.

Alternatives one, two and three are detailed in the draft EIS and have different standards for protection and restoration for wolves. Levels of lethal control strategy and compensation for losses to livestock owners also differ, according to the document summary.

Alternative four is a no-action alternative with no recovery requirements established. It would continue the current management, emphasizing protection and restoration with existing programs but without a plan. Wolves would remain endangered until a state recovery plan was completed.

The first three alternatives set recovery requirements at six successful pairs of breeding wolves before downlisting the animals to threatened.  The animals would be downlisted to sensitive when 12 pairs were successfully breeding. Delisting would occur at 15 pairs.

The first three alternatives differ in objectives for wolf distribution, use of management control options and level of compensation for depredation losses to livestock owners.

Alternative one would implement lethal control options at earlier listing statuses and sets a lower standard for geographic distribution of recovery objectives. State downlisting and delisting could occur with the majority of animals present in just one or two recovery regions. It would allow earlier implementation of management tools for addressing livestock conflicts and recommends less generous compensation for depredation.

Alternative two is the agency’s preferred alternative and “meets the goals and objectives for establishing a long-term viable wolf population and addresses wolf-livestock conflicts and interactions between wolves and ungulates. It includes a range of proactive, non-lethal control options for addressing livestock conflicts and recommends generous compensation in cases of confirmed and probable depredations,” according to the document.

Alternative three has the greatest emphasis on protection and restoration of wolves, with a higher standard for the geographic distribution of wolves. It is the most conservative on implementing management tools to address livestock conflicts and is the most generous with compensation to livestock owners.

Livestock owners would be allowed to kill wolves in the act of attacking livestock under all alternatives, but at different listed statuses. Alternative one would allow lethal take during all listed statuses, alternative two (preferred by the agency) would allow lethal take when wolves reach threatened status and alternative three would permit killing during the sensitive status.

Each alternative also has provisions for killing wolves in the act of attacking domestic dogs.

The draft plan includes alternative proactive measures to reduce livestock depredation, manage for healthy ungulate populations, manage wolf-ungulate conflict, and conduct outreach and education programs.

WDFW anticipated taking over gray wolf management from federal wildlife managers and initiated development of the draft plan for the endangered species in 2006. The agency started the plan based on the wolf conservation and management plan adopted by Oregon in 2005. Luers said that Washington was similar to Oregon in that it was not part of the federal wolf recovery efforts in the Rocky Mountain region.

In late 2006 the agency sought citizen advisors, volunteers with a stake in conservation, livestock, hunting and the economics of wolf management. The 17-member Working Wolf Group first met in the spring of 2007, and met eight more times, making suggestions “to keep this and not that” said Luers. A public scoping meeting in Twisp drew 31 attendees in August 2007.

The agency invited 150 wolf experts from near and far to review the draft plan and about 45 responded, said Luers. The scientific reviewers included David Meach, the most prominent author on wolf management in Minnesota; Doug Smith, project leader for the recovery of wolves in Yellowstone; Ed Bangs with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Montana; and Carter Niemeyer, the Idaho state wildlife manager who trapped and radio-collared the first confirmed breeding pair of wolves that dispersed from Canada to the Methow Valley in 2008.

A public meeting is scheduled from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Nov. 9 at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds Agriplex in Omak. There are 12 public meetings across the state that will open with a 25-minute presentation by Harriet Allen, manager of the state’s threatened and endangered species programs. Allen will summarize the draft plan then open the meeting to hear from the public.

The public is invited to review the draft plan and draft EIS online atwww.wdfw.wa.gov/wildlife/management/gray_wolf/mgmt_plan.html. Written comments may be submitted online or mailed to WDFW SEPA Desk, 600 Capital Way N. Olympia, WA 98501-1091.

Copies of the plan are on their way to local libraries in Okanogan and Chelan counties, said Luers. If you prefer a printed copy of the DEIS or CD (supplies limited) contact the wildlife program at (360) 902-2515.