November 17, 2009 in Opinion

Outside View: Washington state’s plans for wolves reasonable

 
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Editor’s note: This commentary from the Wenatchee World is presented in place of the customary Spokesman-Review editorial.

We have wolves in Washington. Wolves are not optional. We cannot declare the state a wolf-free zone or build an impenetrable wolf barrier along our border to keep the interloper out of Idaho or British Columbia. We can’t pack them up and send them to Issaquah. We certainly cannot send out wolf extermination patrols to do away with them.

In this regard, some of the anti-wolf sentiment expressed so vociferously at the state’s recent meetings in Okanogan and Wenatchee has no serious point. The question is not whether there will be wolves in Washington. The question is how to manage them. For that, the state Department of Wildlife’s proposed wolf management plan seems reasonable.

Washington now has at least two breeding wolf packs – one in the Methow Valley and the other in Pend Oreille County. The gray wolf is listed by the state as an endangered species. It is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of Washington. The wolves were not transplanted here. They migrated here naturally.

Now that they are here, it is the state’s obligation to protect them until they are plentiful enough to be self-sustaining. Then, when they are removed from the endangered species list, it will be the state’s obligation to manage the population at a reasonable level. In the interim, the state must minimize and mitigate the loss of livestock and related interference with the neighboring human beings.

The state will set a goal of 15 successful breeding pairs of wolves for three consecutive years before they can be delisted. Environmentalists and conservation groups generally see that as far too few. Many hunters and ranchers see it as far too many. The state’s plan says that is the “minimum to achieve recovery” and “a compromise between biological and social values.”

If the wolves are instinctively true to form, it will not be long before they reach the point of recovery. In the Northern Rockies they went from 35 imported Canadian wolves to an estimated 1,600 in a little more than a decade. Wolf hunting seasons in Idaho and Montana were not expected to make an excessive dent.

With this population explosion there has been an impact on livestock and game. The state says these impacts are localized and generally less than losses to other predators and weather. The state’s management plan will offer assistance and financial compensation to livestock owners while the wolf is recovering. The cattle ranchers do have a reasonable fear that this will be too little and too late should they lose animals to wolves. If your livestock – your source of livelihood and your investment – is eaten by a legally protected predator, saying that loss is “localized” is no consolation. Adequate compensation is a reasonable expectation, and the state should heed it.

The wolf is a natural presence. It has reclaimed its habitat. We can be pleased or appalled or indifferent, but it is fact. We will coexist. It is right to have a plan for that, and the state’s proposal does not seem like a bad one.


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