Tracy Brooks (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Region)/Flickr
A lot of people have eagerly tracked the progress of a gray wolf (known as OR7) that has traveled more than 800 miles from the Wallowas to the Crater Lake region and then, right after Christmas, into northern California — where it became the Golden State's first gray wolf since 1924. Many have also applauded the appearances of new packs in Washington — where, this summer, Washington biologists identified packs in the Teanaway drainage, east of Seattle, and up in Stevens County.
But not everyone welcomes the prospect of a wolf pack in the neighborhood. Take a look at Okanogan County. Or ask Jay Kehne, whose appointment to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission is under fire from some in Okanogan County, where he lives.
Gray wolves were, of course, extirpated from the western United States by the end of World War II. They became charter members of the endangered species list. In 1995, they were re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park. Since then, they have also walked across the Canadian border.
By this time, there are perhaps 1,600 in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Those states were eager to get wolves off the endangered species list. The Interior Department tried in 2008, and again in 2009 to "de-list" them from protection in Idaho and Montana. Both delistings were shot down by a federal court.
Last spring, in a rider to the legislation that kept the government paying its bills for the rest of the last fiscal year, Congress ordered the secretary of the interior to re-issue the 2009 deslisting rule — and insulated it from judicial review. Hunting seasons for gray wolves opened in Idaho and Montana late last summer.
The Congressional wolf delisting didn't cover the entire West. In Washington, it extends only as far west as Route 97, which runs along the Okanogan River through Omak and Tonasket. West of that line, wolves still have federal protection. And even east of the line, they are protected by the state, which has also listed wolves as an endangered species.
The state started working on a gray wolf management plan in 2007, when federal delisting first looked like an idea whose time was coming soon. A final draft plan came out last July. Within weeks, the Okanogan County commissioners passed a resolution asking the state to take wolves off Washington's endangered species list. Last October, the director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife declined. On Dec. 3, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to approve the final plan.
Under the new plan, "recovery" will be achieved when the state has 15 breeding pairs distributed among three recovery areas. (Fifteen breeding pairs means anywhere from 97 to 365 wolves.) Ranchers will get compensated for any known or probable wolf kills. For a known kill, they'll get double the dead animal's market value.
The plan was a compromise. It is a document on which people representing a range of interest groups — including the state farm bureau — have signed off.
There's something to be said for consensus. Of course, not every last potential opponent was at the table, and some people think even 15 breeding pairs would be too many. Like opponents in other parts of the West, those critics worry that wolves will kill or harass livestock (or at least make them wary, which may take their minds off eating enough to slow their weight gain) and kill or harass elk (or at least make them wary, too, which may make them harder to shoot). Some hunters worry that wolves will actually destroy or seriously deplete elk populations.
Experience elsewhere suggests that except for very localized effects on populations already in trouble, those fears are largely fantasy. "The effects that wolves will have on elk, deer, and other ungulate populations and hunter harvest are difficult to predict," the plan says, "but observations from neighboring states suggest that statewide effects will be low, especially during recovery phases."
Washington's wolf wars didn't end when the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted the plan — unanimously — last month. Before the wolf plan was adopted, Jay Kehne — an Omak resident who has degrees in wildlife biology and soil science — applied online for one of two vacant seats on the Fish and Wildlife Commission. People who knew him sent in letters of recommendation. Shortly after the commissioners voted on the wolf plan, Gov. Chris Gregoire named Kehne to the commission. Then something started hitting the fan.
"GOP seeks to stop Kehne appointment," shouted the Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle's lead headline for Dec. 28. "Can Kehne truly represent us?" asks a column by editor and publisher Roger Harnack. The paper notes that Republican county commissioner Andy Lampe, who wrote Kehne a letter of recommendation, withdrew his endorsement. Nevertheless, local Republicans aren't sure they'll back Lampe for re-election.
And now the county commissioners have sent a letter to the chair of the state Senate's Agriculture, Water & Rural Economic Development Committee "absolutely" opposing Kehne's nomination. His appointment could be rejected by the Senate.
What's the fuss about? As the Commission's press release notes, Kehne "had [a] 31-year career with the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, including serving as resource conservation and development coordinator for Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties and providing conservation assistance to farmers, ranchers and other landowners." Not too much to raise the hackles there; what reddens the necks of some local residents is that he also "serves as Okanogan outreach associate for Conservation Northwest." Conservation Northwest advocates protecting wolves. Anyone who advocates protecting wolves is clearly unfit to represent eastern Washington.
"Being employed by an extreme environmentalist group may lead to the downfall of an embattled Jay Kehne in his bid for a seat on the state Fish and Wildlife Commission," explained the Chronicle's lead story. "Conservation Northwest is headed by Mitch Friedman, a Bellingham-based environmental activist and former Earth First member arrested multiple times for civil disobedience," it explains. "'Jay Kehne is bought and paid for by Conservation Northwest,' 7th Legislative District Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, said last week.
"According to Kretz, the Republic Party is demanding that Kehne either walk away from the nomination or quit his job."
"With Gov. Gregoire selecting the members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for the last seven years, it reads like wolf lover's [alumni]," proclaims one letter to the editor. "The commisison has done nothing for big game in Eastern Washington and now, with its wolf plan, has given deer and elk a death sentence."
Another concludes that "last week, a wolf advocate from this area was selected to serve on the state game commission. The wolf really is in the hen house!"
"Jay Kehne stands against my core values and beliefs," writes a third. "If he is appointed to represent Eastern Washington on the state's highest game board, they we have been forsaken."
The Chronicle's characterization of Friedman and his organization contains more than a little irony. Yes, once upon a time, he was an Earth Firster. That was back during the administration of Ronald Reagan. These days, he and Conservation Northwest have been noted — and severely critized — for their efforts to work with ranchers and loggers, to make everybody a winner, to compromise.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!