Washington wildlife managers received 7,798 comments about the future of wolves, with the majority of those comments coming from out of state.
Of the comments, 47% came from Washington and 3% from Idaho, Montana and Oregon. The remainder came from across the nation.
A number of national nonprofits encouraged their members to comment on the plan.
“There are a lot of people interested in what goes into the plan,” statewide wolf coordinator Julia Smith said. “I think it shows our work is cut out for us. As to be expected, there are a lot of differences of opinion on how wolves should be managed and conserved into the future.”
About 13% of the Washington comments came from areas where wolves live. As a proportion of their population, rural counties that have wolves led the pack in interest.
For instance, 218 comments came from Stevens County. With a population of 45,570, Stevens county residents submitted the most comments per capita. In addition to Stevens, the counties with the highest proportion of comments were Garfield, Pend Oreille and Ferry, all of which have known wolf populations.
WDFW received 273 comments from Spokane County and 917 from King County.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife broke comments into categories based on content.
Those categories included whether livestock producers should be compensated for losses, whether to manage wolves strictly based on science or to factor in social and economic considerations, translocation and land management questions, among others.
Unsurprisingly, comments were sharply divided on many of the issues.
For instance, on the issue of compensation, one commenter wrote, “I believe that compensation is necessary when losses are experienced –whether these losses are direct or indirect.”
Another wrote, “Society should not pay (financially or environmentally) for cattle killed by wolves.”
Broadly speaking, the comments highlighted the ongoing divide over wolves in Washington and how best to coexist with the predators since they naturally returned to the state in 2008. The question of whether to manage the animals strictly using science, versus managing them based on social tolerance, exemplifies this tension.
“Wolf populations need to be managed taking into account their effect on other wildlife, habitat carrying capacity, their impact on domestic residential and commercial needs, and the cost of managing populations,” wrote one person.
In contrast, another person wrote, “Please make sure that scientists are the primary input as to when populations have reached a sustainable level.”
Another hot topic was whether wolves should be hunted once statewide protections are removed.
The comments are the first step toward taking wolves off Washington’s state endangered species list. Comments were accepted last year from Aug. 1 through Nov. 15. The comments are not votes, Smith said. Instead, they create a list of issues that WDFW will consider during the scoping period.
Wolves are protected by state endangered species rules in the eastern one-third of the state and remain federally protected in the western two-thirds. According to the state’s wolf recovery plan, wolves can be delisted after 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years or after officials document 18 breeding pairs in one year.
When wolves are delisted – at the state or federal level – WDFW hopes to have a management plan written and ready to go. Managers anticipate that plan will be finalized in two to three years.
The next step for WDFW is to create a draft Environmental Impact Statement evaluating actions, alternatives and impacts. That document will also be available for public review and comment.
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