WENATCHEE — After hosting 19 public meetings and reviewing more than 65,000 comments, the state released its revised plan to recover gray wolves in Washington that should both please and upset cattlemen, hunters and conservationists.
Some aren’t happy that the plan still requires 15 packs of wolves for three consecutive years in order to remove protections required under the Endangered Species Act.
Others might not like the agency’s plan to seek higher penalties for poaching wolves.
Scheduled for final review in August by the Washington Wildlife Commission, the plan will guide state strategies for recovering gray wolves in Washington. Wolves are listed as federally endangered in the western two-thirds of the state, where the only known pack is the Methow Valley’s Lookout Pack. The federal government recently delisted Rocky Mountain gray wolves, including lands east of Highway 97 where the state’s two other known packs reside. Additional unconfirmed packs may exist in the Blue Mountains, North Cascades National Park, and Kittitas County, according to the draft document.
Rocky Beach, wildlife diversity manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said overall, the plan is largely the same as the state’s draft proposal, although many parts were “tweaked” to reflect comments and scientific peer reviews.
One of the biggest changes has to do with the numbers of breeding pairs needed to remove wolves from federal protections, he said. The draft plan required two successful breeding pairs in the Eastern Washington region, two in the North Cascades, and five in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast. Six additional breeding pairs in any part of the state were also needed.
Now, six breeding pairs are required in Eastern Washington, four in the North Cascades and five altogether in Southern Cascades and the Northwest Coast to delist them. Beach said the change allows wildlife managers more certainty in recovery before delisting, and more flexibility in managing wolves in the separate areas. Fifteen successful breeding pairs is equal to between 97 and 361 wolves, the plan says.
One of the most controversial changes will likely be allowing landowners or state Wildlife officers to kill a wolf in the act of killing livestock, guard animals or domestic dogs while on private or leased property. The wolf must be caught “in the act” of attacking the animal. “It’s a very rare event, as we know from the Rocky Mountain states,” Beach said.
The plan also gives Wildlife managers new options to kill or move wolves that threaten at-risk populations of deer, elk or caribou. Beach said it’s also unlikely that wolves will be plentiful enough to harm the state’s elk or deer herds while they’re still endangered, but it gives wildlife managers more options. Approximately 300 wolves will kill between 6,700 and 10,000 deer and elk each year, the plan states.
The plan also:
— Adds new recommendations for homeowners who own dogs and live in areas with wolves, including not leaving dogs outside overnight unless they are in a sturdy kennel, and not allowing dogs to run at large.
— Adds new recommendations for people who hike with dogs, including considering leaving dogs at home while hiking in areas with wolves, keeping dogs on a leash when hiking in known wolf habitat and placing a bell on the dog’s collar to alert wolves that people are present.
— Adds information about parasitic tapeworms, which have recently been found in more than half of the wolves tested in Idaho and Montana. Beach said the parasite can also make its way into the state from traveling coyotes, fox, deer, elk or other ungulates.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will review the new draft plan during its June 4 meeting in Olympia, and a 17-member citizens group which helped draft the plan will look at changes before the state releases its updated Environmental Impact Statement to the public. The Commission will hear public comments on the final plan in August before considering adoption in December.