Washington is no longer on the sidelines watch- ing Idaho and Montana cope with the explosive revival of a formerly extirpated predator.
Gray wolves are commanding more attention from courtrooms to cattle ranches as they filter in and set up housekeeping in the Evergreen State.
In the past eight months:
Washington approved a plan for managing wolves, which are listed as endangered statewide under state law and as endangered in the western two-thirds of the state under federal law.
Three wolf-livestock predation incidents have been confirmed. Up to this year, a 2007 cattle depred- ation case had been the only Washington incident recorded in 70 years.
Two trappers and two wildlife technicians have been hired specifically to deal with wolves and monitor packs.
Three members of a Twisp-area family were convicted in a poaching case involving two wolves from the state’s first confirmed wolf pack. Their sentences were topped by Bill White’s $15,000 fine plus $20,000 in restitution, six months of home detention and three years of probation.
The Discovery Channel aired “Man vs. Wolf,” a BBC documentary looking at wolf issues in the Methow Valley.
The state’s eighth “official” wolf pack was confirmed on Monday as a state trapper caught and put a radio transmitter on a 94-pound male in “the Wedge” area between the Columbia and Kettle rivers. He also caught and tagged a pup.
At the end of 2011, the state had confirmed five packs, which are defined as two or more adults traveling together.
The state almost surely holds more packs than the eight biologists have been able to confirm.
The Huckleberry Pack recently documented in southern Stevens and northwestern Spokane counties is no surprise. A wolf road-killed by a vehicle in 2008 near Tum Tum was the first physical proof that gray wolves had returned to Washington.
The sixth pack – the Nc’cin – was documented by Colville Tribal biologists in early June after they trapped and released the first wolves on the Colville Reservation in more than a century.
This spike in wolf activity has sparked more wolf “management.”
The state has given two ranchers permits to kill wolves caught in the act of threatening their stock following incidents with their herds.
Fish and wildlife officials also authorized a range rider to use rubber bullets and other nonlethal tactics to keep wolves away from livestock.
Monday’s success in trapping and radio-collaring what likely was the pack’s alpha male will help biologists act proactively if it gets too close to livestock.
Meanwhile, trappers are focusing on getting collars on the Huckleberry Pack and the Teanaway Pack, which roams along the North Cascades. Wolf trapping in the Blue Mountains has failed so far.
Monitoring efforts are water under the bridge in Montana and Idaho, where wolves have been removed from the endangered species list and the emphasis has switched to reducing the “overrecovered” wolf populations.
Taking a lesson from Idaho’s success, Montana last week approved new wolf hunting rules that include longer seasons and allow trapping.
Hunters alone killed only 166 wolves during Montana’s wolf season last year, falling short of the state’s goal to kill 220 wolves. Despite the wolf hunting season, the wolf population increased in 2011 by 15 percent to more than 650 wolves in 130 verified packs.
Montana is trying to get the wolf numbers down to 425-500.
Idaho’s 2011-2012 wolf hunting seasons ended June 30 and was followed immediately by the 2012-2013, which opened July 1 on private land only in the Panhandle wolf management zone.
Wolf hunting opens in the rest of the state on Aug. 30 followed by trapping on Nov. 15.
Last season, Idaho wolf hunters and trappers killed 379 wolves. At the end of 2011, Idaho says it had 101 wolf packs and at least 746 wolves, not counting the 24 boundary packs the state shares with Montana, Wyoming and Washington.
During 2011, 71 cattle, 121 sheep, three horses, six dogs and two domestic bison were confirmed wolf kills in Idaho. Another 47 animals were listed as probable wolf kills.
Of course, the toll on the state’s coveted elk herds also continued.
That’s roughly where Washington is headed, but hunting and trapping seasons are far in the future.
Under the state’s wolf plan, 15 successful breeding pairs would be required for three consecutive years to remove endangered species protections.
Four breeding pairs would be required in Eastern Washington, the North Cascades and the South Cascades or Northwest coast, as well as three other pairs anywhere in the state. But a lengthy and costly environmental process would be required before any wolves would be relocated into Western Washington to complete the delisting requirements.
In other words, Eastern Washington will take the brunt of the impact from wolf recovery for years to come.