Oct. 28, 2009

By Joyce Campbell

The state wildlife department is taking the draft wolf conservation and management plan on the road and taking comments and questions about wolf recovery from – so far – mostly angry and dissatisfied citizens.

“We are NOT re-introducing wolves in Washington,” said Madonna Luers, information officer for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She said people are coming to the meetings angry, thinking that the department is bringing the wolves into the state. “The wolves are coming in on their own, naturally dispersing from other areas.”

The department will be bringing the draft plan to the Okanogan County Fairgrounds Agriplex on Monday, Nov. 9, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. A presentation will be followed by questions and answers and a recorded comment session. The Omak meeting is one of 12 statewide, with the final meeting in Wenatchee at the Chelan County PUD Auditorium on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

There is a lot of information and terminology to clarify, said Luers. She said it appears people don’t understand the management plan is for wolves that naturally came here, will grow in population and reach the point to get from endangered to threatened to sensitive and then off the list.

“Then we’ll have the flexibility to allow a legal take if caught in the act of taking out a cow,” said Luers. “People want tools if a predator is chasing a cow.”

The gray wolf is protected by the state endangered species act and federally protected in the Methow and Okanogan areas west of Highway 97, said Luers. It is illegal to take or harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, capture, collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services endangered species program website.

The state’s draft wolf plan is scheduled to be finalized in 2010. If the wildlife department’s preferred alternative prevails and the legislature votes to fund it, action on the ground would begin toward recovery of 15 breeding pairs of wolves.

Under the preferred alternative (Alternative Two), wolf specialists would be hired to conduct outreach and education programs and work with livestock operators to reduce conflicts. Habitat connectivity would be restored, lethal and non-lethal management tools for livestock protection would be implemented, compensation for livestock losses would be provided and wolves would be moved around within the state to achieve population numbers needed for delisting.

Land managers would expand efforts to maintain and restore habitat connectivity for the existing small population of breeding wolves and for naturally dispersing wolves from Canada, Idaho and Oregon. Translocation could be used to move wolves within the state to meet specific recovery numbers in three defined regions: Eastern Washington, the North Cascades, and in the South Cascades/Northwest Coast areas.

Wolves would continue to be protected under state and federal endangered species act provisions and only state and federal agents could use lethal control on wolves involved in repeated livestock depredations.

WDFW would permit and train citizens to use guns with rubber bullets to non-lethally harass wolves during all listed statuses.

The department’s preferred alternative would provide compensation for confirmed depredation on private or public lands at twice the value on grazing sites of 100 or more acres and full value on sites less than 100 acres. Payment for probable depredation would be full value on 100 acres or more and half value on grazing sites less than 100 acres.

The WDFW would hire wolf specialists to work with livestock operators to provide technical assistance to implement proactive measures to reduce conflicts. Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation organization, may assist with some costs.

Ungulates would receive a healthy boost through habitat improvement, harvest management and reduction of illegal hunting. Where wolves are not meeting recovery objectives and prey availability is a limiting factor, harvest of ungulates would be managed to benefit wolves.

Under the preferred alternative, downlisting to threatened would begin when each of the three regions has two sustainable packs of wolves.

When listed as threatened, livestock owners, their family members and authorized employees would be allowed to kill wolves in the act of attacking (biting, wounding or killing) livestock on privately owned or leased land.

Downlisting to sensitive would occur when the Eastern Washington and North Cascades regions each have two packs, the Southern Cascades/Northwest Coast has five packs and three more packs are anywhere in the state.

While wolves are listed as sensitive, livestock owners with a permit would be allowed to kill wolves involved in repeated livestock depredations on private lands or public grazing allotments.

Private citizens would also be allowed to kill wolves in the act of attacking (biting, wounding or killing) domestic dogs on private land. When delisted, private citizens would be allowed to kill wolves in the act of attacking domestic dogs on private or public land.

Delisting would occur when there are 15 confirmed packs anywhere in the state. At-risk populations of ungulates (deer, elk) would benefit from delisting, as lethal and non-lethal controls could be used if wolf predation is a limiting factor for the ungulates.

The WDFW preferred alternative is sandwiched between Alternatives One and Three, which each offer other options and triggers for action. All alternatives set a goal of 15 pairs of breeding wolves for delisting, but differ in the geographic spread of population, management options, levels of compensation for depredation of livestock and impacts on hunted ungulates like deer and elk.

Alternative One “has a lower standard for protection and restoration of wolves in the state and a more aggressive lethal control strategy,” according to the draft plan. Lethal control would occur at earlier listing statuses, geographical distribution is narrower and compensation for livestock losses is less generous.

Alternative One would allow livestock owners to kill wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock on private land during all listed statuses. The department would permit lethal control by livestock owners on private lands and public grazing allotments when wolves are involved in repeated livestock depredations during threatened status.

Compensation for confirmed depredation would be at full value on private lands only and half-full value for probable depredation on all parcel sizes.

Private citizens would be allowed to kill wolves caught in the act of attacking dogs on private lands when wolves reach threatened status and also on public lands when wolves are delisted. Outreach and education would continue at current levels under Alternative One.

Under Alternative One, ungulate harvest would not be managed to benefit wolves. When wolves reach sensitive status, they could be moved or lethally or non-lethally controlled if ungulate populations decline below herd objectives due to depredation.

Alternative Three places the greatest emphasis on protection and restoration of wolves, according to the plan’s description of alternatives. It calls for the distribution of wolves throughout four regions, creating a Southern Cascades and a Pacific Coast region. It is the most conservative on implementing management tools for livestock conflicts and recommends the most generous compensation package for livestock losses.

Lethal control by livestock owners wouldn’t be permitted until the species is listed as sensitive. When downlisted to sensitive, wolves involved in repeated livestock depredations or caught in the act of attacking livestock on private land would be subject to lethal control or non-lethal injurious harassment by livestock owners.

Private citizens would be allowed to kill wolves in the act of attacking domestic dogs once wolves are delisted. Harvest of ungulates would be managed to benefit wolves in each recovery region until recovery objectives for the region are met. Outreach and education would be a high priority.

Compensation under Alternative Three is the most generous, with twice the full value paid for each confirmed depredation on all parcel sizes on both private and public lands. Probable depredation would be compensated at full value.

The WDFW will prepare a final Environmental Impact Statement based on comments received from agencies and interested parties during a 95-day public review period ending Jan. 8.

The public is invited to review the draft plan and draft EIS at local libraries or online atwww.wdfw.wa.gov/wild life/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.