The Daily World via Associated Press
ABERDEEN, Wash. (AP) -- State wildlife officials say there is new evidence of more gray wolves in eastern and northern Washington state, a revelation that makes Rep. Brian Blake think that the state needs to just let the wolves emerge into the state from Idaho and British Columbia naturally.
The Democrat from Aberdeen says he's taking a hard line opposing part of the state's draft wolf management plan, which authorizes "translocating" wolves that end up thriving in Washington state to the coastal areas, specifically the Willapa Hills and Olympic National Park.
"There is absolutely no reason for the state to get involved and somehow force the wolves here," Blake said.
The plan is to encourage the growth of the endangered gray wolf in Washington state so that it could eventually be delisted from the both the state and federal Endangered Species List. Early plans call for the state to help achieve 15 breeding pairs.
Already, the state has confirmed at least two breeding packs in Eastern Washington with hints of paw tracks and remote camera photos showing evidence of two other potential packs. There's also one pack that apparently had a breeding population a year ago that has simply disappeared.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is reviewing nearly 65,000 public comments related to the controversial wolf management plan, which is going through an internal review at the state agency and isn't set for approval by the Fish and Wildlife Commission until December of 2011.
A 17-member citizen working group composed of ranchers, hunters, conservationists and others will take a crack at a second draft of the plan this spring.
Phil Anderson, the director of the state agency, told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee last Friday that he is taking personal role in the wolf management plan to show his commitment on working on the issue.
"I understand the seriousness of the issue," Anderson told the committee. "I understand the controversial nature of the issue and I understand it's going to need all of our attention at the highest level of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. I'd like to find a solution that works for the citizens of the State of Washington."
Blake chairs the committee and told Anderson to expect some kind of legislation this session focusing on the issue of wolf management.
"I don't plan to introduce anything but I know several legislators who probably will," Blake said on Monday, citing concerns he's heard that more wolves in the state will mean livestock and elk populations that could be harmed.
The first confirmed sighting of a wild gray wolf pack in decades was in 2008 in Okanogan and Chelan counties, emerging into the state from British Columbia, Anderson said.
The state has been radio tracking the "Lookout Pack" since July 2008 and found a 350 to 400 square mile territory size. In 2008, there was evidence of three adults and six pups. In 2009, there were just two adults, one yearling and four pups, but this year, Anderson said evidence suggests the female wolf disappeared, no breeding has gone on and the pack status has officially been labeled as "uncertain."
In July 2009, wolves with what is called the "Diamond Pack" were discovered in Pend Oreille County, likely emerging from Idaho and using a 250 square mile area as their territory. The pack has experienced growth -- emerging from two adults and six pups to two adults, four yearlings and six pups this year.
Anderson said that if two pups from this year are still alive at the end of the year, the state will count them as a separate breeding pack.
Two other wolves were caught on remote camera this past summer at the border between Canada and Pend Oreille County and may constitute a separate pack being called "Salmo Pack." A male pup was collared in August.
In southeast Washington on the southern border of Columbia County, a remote camera caught pictures of wolves in November of 2008 and paw tracks in the snow were found in February of last year.
In northern Washington in Whatcom County on the border with Canada, tracks were seen this past spring in a drawdown area as well as on trails. Anderson said more confirmation of the potential pack being called "Hozomeen Pack" will be sought next year.
Anderson said the state is using about $200,000 in federal funds to monitor the wolves.
At this point, there's only been one confirmed encounter of a wolf killing livestock and that was in 2008, according to Jack Fields, with the Washington Cattlemen's Association.
"All of these details tell us that the wolf is coming and it's coming on its own without us needing to help it along," Blake said on Monday.
Last year, Blake joined fellow state Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, and Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, in writing a formal letter opposing the concept of taking existing breeding wolves from one part of the state and putting them on the Olympic Peninsula.
"Managing wolves that have naturally moved to a location is one thing, but intentionally moving them to a new location is quite another," the legislators wrote.
Anderson confirmed that "translocating" the wolves is still part of the plan, although the plan is silent on whether it would actually be done.
"Moving wolves that are within the state boundaries to another location in the state is a tool that is available in the plan but is not defined specifically that it be used," Anderson said. "It's not stated it will be used. It's a tool that could be considered."
Anderson said the issue would need to go through its own environmental planning process before the state agency could pull the trigger and decide to implement the concept.
"It's not something that could just be done," Anderson said. "I think translocation is a hugely controversial issue and it is so far down the road that it would take an excruciating process to get there."
Anderson said his department is currently sorting through the thousands of public comments it received through e-mail and done online as well as through a series of public forums conducted last year around the state, including one in Aberdeen.
Notably, the agency leader said, is out of the 65,000 public comments, "an awful lot of those comments came from out of state." Anderson said those out-of-area viewpoints need to be contrasted with the way Washington state residents really feel about the management plan.
Many of the public comments reviewed by The Daily World do show some contrasting viewpoints.
The wife of a hunter from Elma wrote that she was scared that the wolves "will wipe out the Elk herds that are established in the area."
The concept of translocation is "the poison pill of the plan," wrote another wildlife enthusiast from Aberdeen.
But there was also support for the concept of translocation.
At least 20 state legislators from the Puget Sound area signed on to a letter urging the state to adopt a final plan "that includes scientifically based numbers and calls for distribution (of wolves) throughout the state including the Olympic Peninsula and Mt. St. Helens."
Of one of many similar comments, a Port Townsend couple wrote, "Olympic National Park offers the best habitat, the largest unmanaged elk population, and the least chances for wolf-human conflicts in the state."
A blind peer review of the plan done by three unnamed scientific professionals and edited by a University of Washington professor did raise some questions -- notably that the state's goal of 15 breeding pairs should probably be higher and that the number was based more on politics than science.
The concept of translocation was also discussed.
"While the plan states that translocation of wolves will be used to achieve recovery goals, it seems that with the Olympics and southern Cascades the potential for natural colonization is minimal at best," on of the reviewers states. "Rather than translocating WA wolves out of other recovery areas in the state and potentially impacting those local areas (i.e., if there are only 4 pairs in that recovery area, removing even 1 pair constitutes a 25 percent reduction in that recovery area), why not consider bringing wolves from Canada into those western recovery areas? This would speed recovery and increase genetic diversity."
"I think it would be a great idea to consider translocation of wolves into the Olympic Peninsula, but you may want to list some of the negative sides of translocations," a different reviewer wrote. "Downside of translocations could include -- less public support for wolf recovery when wolves are brought in, greater agency blame if introduced wolves cause problems, translocated wolves may suffer higher mortality, translocators sometime display erratic dispersal behavior causing wolves to move out of desired areas and into less desired areas and it will be costly to monitor translocated wolves."
Information from: The Daily World, http://www.thedailyworld.com
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.