Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Washington wildlife officials are beginning to talk about how to manage wolves once the species recolonizes the state.
It may take five more years, but wolves will reproduce in sufficient numbers throughout Washington to meet the state’s goals, Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said Thursday in an interview.
“The writing is on the wall. This species will reach its recovery objectives,” he said. “We need to have a dialogue about what happens when we reach that point, and we need to start having that dialogue now.”
Wolves are a state-protected species, a designation that has less weight than federal protection, but nevertheless puts WDFW’s focus on recovery. Taking wolves off the state list could emphasize other issues, such as limiting the population of predators.
The state’s action would be separate and subordinate to federal rules. Wolves are federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state, where they are rare.
Wolves are numerous enough in northeast Washington that wildlife managers can no longer count with confidence how many roam in a four-county region.
Martorello said WDFW is focused now on documenting packs and breeding pairs to the west and south, a prerequisite to moving to post-recovery management. State and federal biologists recently captured and fitted with a radio collar Western Washington’s first known wolf in decades.
“We are seeing wolves continue to expand geographically, as well as numerically,” Martorello said. “It’s a sign to us to start planning. I can’t forecast if it will be a two-year process or a five-year process or more, but I do know it will take time.”
WDFW counted 115 wolves in Washington at the end of 2016. If projections hold true, the population will increase by about 30 percent annually, even though the department resorts to lethal control to stop chronic attacks on livestock. WDFW killed three wolves this summer and seven in 2016.
Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen said that he was encouraged that WDFW will start talking about taking wolves off the state-protected list.
Nielsen said northeast Washington has become saturated with wolves. Besides attacking livestock, wolves are reducing the population of deer and elk, and threatening public safety, he said.
“It got so much worse this year than last year,” Nielsen said. “It is important to get de-listing, so they (wildlife managers) can be a lot more reasonable about what’s really happening out there.”.
Center for Biological Diversity wolf advocate Amaroq Weiss said it was premature to talk about limiting the wolf population.
WDFW should reopen its wolf plan, adopted in 2011, and consider whether the state’s goals will ensure the species survival, she said.
“It’s not just a recovery plan, it’s a conservation and management plan,” she said. “They need to look at all the current science.”
Washington’s wolf plan divides the state into three regions. The state needs at least 15 breeding pairs, with each region having at least four, according to the plan.
Eastern Washington has eight documented breeding pairs, while the North Cascades has two. The South Cascades has zero. Nevertheless, WDFW projects the goals will be met statewide by 2021 or 2022.