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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Forum addresses wolf return

Washington state hasn’t exactly put out the welcome mat for wolves, but the door certainly isn’t locked.

At a public forum Wednesday night at Mount Spokane High School, state officials posed the question: How should the predators be handled when they return?

The 70 or so people attending the forum ranged from those ecstatic about the comeback to ranchers who suggested the state only allow wolves to roam liberal neighborhoods of Seattle. But if there was one idea shared by both wolf lovers and wolf haters, it was a fear of legislative meddling and citizen initiatives.

“We’re better off to come up with a plan now we can all live with,” said Harvey Brown, an engineer from Greenacres who does not want to see any state-imposed population limits for wolves. Brown, like others at the forum, said he would rather have experts develop a wolf management plan. Legislators and voter initiatives, he said, “tend to go overboard. This is our best shot.”

Harry Cupp, a hunter from Newman Lake who wants to see the state set strict limits, agreed. “When they took the hound hunting away from us, it really hurt,” he said, referring to a 1996 voter initiative that banned the hunting of cougars with dogs.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is now drafting a wolf management plan it hopes will satisfy environmentalists as well as ranchers. The agency has assembled a group of 18 citizen volunteers – ranging from the director of a wolf recovery group to a sheep producer – in hopes of finding an appropriate place in the state for wolves. Wednesday’s meeting was part of the effort. Considering a wide spectrum of views is an insurance policy for the plan, said John Andrews, director of the agency’s eastern region.

“We think if we have a good plan, that lessens the need for initiatives or legislative intervention,” he said.

Wolves had been poisoned, trapped and shot out of the West, but a decade ago 66 animals were reintroduced to Idaho and Yellowstone National Park.

Now, biologists say, 1,243 wolves live in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Wolves are expected to be taken off the federal endangered species list a year from now, with management turned over to states.

Washington’s plan for managing wolves would take effect when delisting occurs. The plan is expected to address issues such as how many wolves should be in the state, where they should live and how to deal with the inevitable losses of livestock. The population targets and plan to compensate ranchers for their losses are posing the toughest issues for the citizens group developing the plan, Andrews said.

Although the state has promised to not actively reintroduce wolves, officials are discussing moving the predators around inside Washington once they arrive, said Harriet Allen, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Department’s endangered and threatened species section.

“The potential to move animals around the state … is still a tool being discussed,” Allen said.

The comment provoked several suggestions of moving wolves from Eastern Washington to Seattle. Tommy Petrie Jr., president of the Pend Oreille County Sportsmen’s Club and member of the state’s wolf working group, said the sentiment is rooted in a frustration that Western Washington has the political clout and population base but doesn’t have to live with the consequences of wolves.

“The majority of people want wolves, but they won’t be affected by them,” Petrie said.

State officials talk about the eventual return of wolves to Washington, but Petrie said the predators are already here. In eight or nine different creek drainages in Pend Oreille County, especially in the Le Clerc Creek area, “Just about anytime you go in them you can see tracks,” Petrie said. “There’s no doubt they’re here.”

Comments on the state plan will be accepted through the end of the month.