Dec. 30, 2009

By Joyce Campbell

There is still time for the public’s opinion and expertise to shape the way the state decides to conserve and manage gray wolves.

Whether you are afraid of how wolves may adversely impact your livelihood or thrilled that the top predators are returning to help balance Washington’s ecosystems, Friday, Jan. 8, is the deadline to comment on four possible scenarios in a draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Residents of the Methow Valley were the first in the state to voice their opinions and observations on the return of the wolf when the first confirmed breeding wolf pack in 70 years apparently moved to the valley from British Columbia. Opinions and information have filled news and opinion pages, online discussion forums and street corners since DNA testing on two radio-collared wolves confirmed the Lookout Pack in July 2008.

State wildlife officials were preparing to take on the responsibilities of managing wolves two years before the Lookout Pack was confirmed. In response to the expected return of the federal and state-listed endangered species from neighboring areas, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife began developing a conservation and management plan for the gray wolf in 2006.

The agency is required under the State Environmental Policy Act to develop and implement a management plan. The wolf is protected statewide by its listing on the state endangered species list and also federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state, including the Methow Valley.

The purpose of the plan is to ensure the re-establishment of a self-sustaining population of gray wolves and to encourage social tolerance for the species by reducing and addressing conflicts. The plan was drafted by state wildlife staff with the help of a 17-member citizen advisory group and reviewed by wolf experts and other scientists. It is currently undergoing an academic peer review and public comment period.

Four alternatives were evaluated, including a no-action alternative. Alternative four, the no-action alternative, does not develop a plan, and would result in the continued listing of wolves until a plan that established recovery objectives was completed. The other alternatives differed in how conservation could be accomplished and how conservation and management could be balanced.

The alternatives vary in geographical distribution, numbers of recovery areas, management options to address conflicts and compensation for livestock depredation. Environmental impacts of each alternative are considered in the 86-page draft EIS.

According to the draft EIS, alternative three places the greatest emphasis on protection and restoration of wolves, with less emphasis on management options for addressing wolf-livestock conflicts. Alternative one has a lower standard for protection and restoration and a more aggressive lethal control strategy.

Alternative two was selected by WDFW as the preferred alternative because it meets the goals and objectives for establishing a sustainable population and addresses wolf-livestock conflicts and impacts on game species. It is manifested in a 249-page document titled Draft Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington.

Following the public and peer review process, a final wolf conservation and management plan will be prepared and presented to the Fish and Wildlife Commission for consideration in late 2010.

Comments are being accepted on the wildlife department’s draft EIS until 5 p.m., Friday, Jan. 8 electronically at www.wdfw.wa.gov/wildlife/management/gray_wolf/mgmt_plan.html, by fax to (360) 902-2946, or by U.S. mail to: WDFW SEPA Desk, 600 Capital Way N. Olympia, WA 98501-1091.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement is available on the WDFW website at www.wdfw.wa.gov/wildlife/management/gray_wolf/. Desk copies are available at public libraries.