Northeastern Washington interests supported a pair of bills Wednesday that could make significant changes in the management of wolves.
One measure would modify the requirements to remove animals, including wolves, from the state's endangered or threatened species list. The other bill would overhaul the state’s wolf management practices.
The fact that Washington's gray wolf population has concentrated in Washington’s northeastern corner, sometimes attacking livestock, is a major factor in the two bills introduced by Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic.
The Washington Senate recently passed the species delisting bill 27-to-22, largely along party lines with most Republicans supporting it. The Senate also passed the wolf management bill, by an overwhelming 39-to-9 margin. The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on both bills Wednesday.
Wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. Wolves in Eastern Washington lost their federal protection in 2011, but not their state protection. A state report for 2013 estimated that Washington had 52 wolves in 13 packs with five successful breeding pairs. Ten packs are in the northeast corner of Washington, which also had three of the state’s five breeding pairs in 2013. However, Reuters recently reported that Washington is down to two breeding pairs. A breeding pair is a female and male with at least two pups.
Right now, one of Washington’s criteria for a successful wolf recovery is 15 successful breeding pairs for three consecutive years, with four breeding pairs on each of three recovery areas. The 2013 state report found no more than two breeding pairs in any recovery area.
Recently, the Western Law Environmental Center filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle to stop the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Service from killing wolves, Reuters also reported. Last year, Wildlife Service officials mistakenly shot a female wolf in a breeding pair.
The delisting bill would allow people from a region within the state -- for example, the northeastern section -- to petition the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission to remove a species from state-protected status for that region. Washington has 47 terrestrial species considered by the state to be endangered, threatened or of concern.
Pend Oreille County Commissioner Karen Skoog and Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart told the committee about gray wolves killing stock, with owners having little recourse in dealing with the wolves. "These are folks who cannot afford these losses," Dansel testified.
"We can't afford to wait," said Jack Field of the Washington Cattlemen's Association. Noting the wolf concentration in the northeast, Tom Davis of the Washington Farm Bureau said, "The wolves are not spreading out as we thought they would.”
David Ware, wolf policy lead for the Fish & Wildlife Commission, said the commission supports the wolf management bill, but has concerns about the delisting bill. Having wolves delisted in one part of the state could handicap efforts to bring Washington's entire gray wolf population to a recovery level statewide, he said.
The wolf management bill would order the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to change its 2011 wolf management plan to base full recovery on packs instead of breeding pairs; to examine wolves killing livestock and wildlife; and to nail down when a wolf can be legally killed.
The department would also have to determine when ranchers and farmers can be compensated for the loss of livestock to wolves. The deadline to overhaul the wolf management plan would be June 30, 2017.
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