Oct. 21, 2009

By Joyce Campbell

Not everyone is in favor of wolf recovery in Washington state, but everyone can comment on the draft plan that proposes to ensure the re-establishment of a self-sustaining population of gray wolves in the state.

A recent survey reported that a large majority of Washington residents (75 percent) support allowing wolves to recover while 17 percent are opposed, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s draft Environmental Impact Statement titled Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington.

People opposing wolf recovery were more likely to live in small towns and rural areas and those living on farms and ranches were the most likely to strongly oppose recovery, according to the survey contracted by WDFW.

“The livestock community has preferred zero wolves from the beginning,” stated a minority report included in the draft wolf plan. “However, due to ESA [Endangered Species Act] and WDFW requirements, zero is not an option,” wrote the six dissenting members of the state’s Working Wolf Group.

“Every alternative calls for 15 breeding pairs and in our opinion is about seven too many,” said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association and member of the 17-member citizens WWG.

He said the livestock and sportsmen’s communities contested the number of breeding pairs that the state can support. The minority report calls for de-listing and managing wolves as big game animals at eight breeding pairs.

According to the report, the draft plan’s target numbers are unrealistic given the lack of suitable habitat and the higher human population density in Washington state compared with Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Eight breeding pairs, or about 80 wolves, would have little detriment to the state’s livestock industry or big game hunting, the report maintains.

“Smaller communities like Twisp, Omak and Okanogan live or die off of hunting season,” said Field. “To ensure the conservation of ungulates, we need to be sure wolves are recovered in a measured and balanced approach.

The members of the minority group accepted the remainder of the draft WWG plan.
There is consensus among people working on the plan that the sooner the wolves recover, the better. The WWG members support taking proactive measures that would lead to faster recovery of wolves, thus allowing greater management flexibility and reducing costs over the long-term.

“We were in agreement to support recovery as quickly as possible after looking at the long, drawn out wolf recovery in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming,” said Derek Knowles, a member of the WWG, a hunter and an outreach coordinator for Conservation Northwest in the Spokane area.

“The wolf will have tremendous benefit on the landscape, returning as the top predator,” said Knowles. “Other members of the group were concerned about getting management tools as soon as possible.”

“We want to get de-listed as quickly as possible to keep honest law abiding citizens from being criminals for protecting their farm and family,” said Field. “People should not be at the mercy of Fish and Wildlife just for having the misfortune of living in a rural part of the state.”
Management tools that include lethal control by agency wildlife officers during the endangered and threatened phases of recovery are included in the agency’s preferred alternative for the plan. In Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, agency decisions to lethally remove wolves have been made on a case-by-case basis, with nearly 1,000 wolves killed in control action from 1987 to 2008, according to the draft plan.

“The sooner we can get them listed as a big game species, the sooner our Fish and Wildlife can turn them from a liability into an asset through the sale of raffle tags, permits and governors tags,” states the minority report in the draft plan.

Everyone interested in telling the state wildlife department what they think about wolf recovery is encouraged to attend one of 12 public meetings and offer comments on the draft wolf conservation and management plan.

“I hope we can get every hunter and outdoorsman and everyone to the most important wildlife meeting we’re going to see in our lifetime,” said Field. “No wildlife issue has the ability to polarize society as much as the wolf.”

“We were tasked by the governor to find common ground,” said Knowles. “Go to a meeting and check your hysteria at the door,” he said. “Listen to one another; it doesn’t have to be either/or.”

Public meetings are scheduled from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 9, at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds Agriplex in Omak and in Wenatchee on Tuesday, Nov. 10. The first meeting was Tuesday Oct. 20 in Clarkston and will be followed by meetings in Richland, Yakima, Colville, Spokane, Vancouver, Aberdeen, Seattle, Mt. Vernon and Sequim.

The public is invited to review the draft plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement at local libraries or online atwww.wdfw.wa.gov/wildlife/management/gray_wolf/mgmt_plan.html. Written comments are due by 5 p.m. Jan. 8 and may be submitted online or mailed to WDFW SEPA Desk, 600 Capital Way N. Olympia, WA 98501-1091.