OLYMPIA – New rules for dealing with wolf attacks on livestock and domestic animals, which seemed stalled in the Legislature, may be announced as early as today as a result of action by key legislators and a state commission.
On Thursday, the House gave final approval to a bill that adds $10 to the cost of certain specialty license plates to provide money for nonlethal methods to control the growing gray wolf populations in Eastern Washington. After being pulled out of committee by a special parliamentary maneuver, it passed unanimously.
Today, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider rules that would allow residents to kill a wolf that is attacking livestock or pets. The rules are expected to be similar to the provisions of a separate bill that generated hot debate between rural Republican legislators from Eastern Washington and their urban Democratic counterparts. It narrowly passed the Senate but stalled in the House.
The new Fish and Wildlife rule is expected to give residents an “affirmative defense” on wolf attacks, said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda. A resident won’t need a permit to kill a wolf attacking livestock but will have to report the kill within 24 hours and deliver the carcass to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“It’ll ease the tensions a bit,” he said. “I’m just getting phone calls and people sending me pictures of wolves every day.”
Changes are also coming at the federal level. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has drafted a proposed rule that would remove wolves from the federal endangered species list for the Lower 48 states, giving states full control over wolf management, the Los Angeles Times reported today. The gray wolf remains on Washington’s endangered species list, under which it has been protected since 1980.
Wolves were once protected as an endangered species in most Western states, but their numbers have grown since they were reintroduced to remote areas of the Rocky Mountains in the mid-’90s and began migrating. The state Fish and Wildlife Department said the wolf population in Eastern Washington is growing faster than the management plan anticipated, up from five packs in 2012 to 11 packs this year.
Farmers and ranchers have reported wolf attacks on livestock, and in some cases on pets. Some Eastern Washington county officials told a legislative committee last month they would declare a state of emergency if the Legislature didn’t act to allow residents to kill wolves attacking their animals.
The commission could set up the rule to take effect immediately, said Kretz, who pushed several proposals to control the growing wolf population this session, including one to capture wolves in Eastern Washington and relocate them to the districts of West Side legislators opposed to any controls on the predators. Kretz said he was only half joking.
Sen. John Smith, R-Colville, said the details of the rules, and whether they are adopted on an emergency basis, are up to the commission but added that “it’s looking good.”
Any rule the commission adopts is only the first step, said Smith, who was the prime sponsor of wolf control legislation in the Senate. Public meetings should continue through the summer and fall, he said, to discuss other solutions.
“We may need to come back and do something statutorily next session,” Smith said. “There are not going to be quick fixes.”
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