By MATTHEW WEAVER
Wolf supporters say an Eastern Washington lawmaker's bill aimed at moving wolves to the west side of the state is damaging their efforts to relocate wolves to the southern Cascade Mountains.
Conservation Northwest has been working on a bipartisan bill to direct the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to move wolves from northeast Washington to the southern Cascades, Mitch Friedman, the nonprofit organization's executive director, said.
Friedman said such a bill would have statewide support and could advance wolf recovery and flexibility.
Earlier this week, Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, introduced House Bill 1258, which calls for the department to move wolves as the primary tool for managing wolf-related wildlife interactions.
According to the two-page bill, a wolf may only be moved to an area where conditions exist to "improve, maintain or manage riparian or other ecosystem functions and where a geographic barrier exists between the translocation area and the rest of the state." The bill identifies such areas as including any island with an area of at least 50 square miles and the Olympic Peninsula.
"Last week we were closer to success than we are today because Mr. Kretz's bill has just filled the room with a bad odor," Friedman said. He called Kretz's bill "dead on arrival."
"This is Mr. Kretz having fun making a political statement at a time I wish he was trying to more seriously address the issues," Friedman said.
Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, said he doesn't want to relocate wolves. While he doesn't think one area should be held "hostage" with an "explosion of wolves," he also knows ranchers would also be on the receiving end of any relocation.
"I know they wouldn't be doing backflips saying, 'Oh yeah, bring wolves in to the South Cascades,'" he said.
Field would prefer a focus on ensuring the state and ranchers have the proper management tools, applying lessons learned with the Wedge Wolf pack on the Diamond M Ranch in Laurier, Wash., much more quickly.
"Perhaps if we could have taken out two or three wolves three months earlier, we could have turned the pack and saved the rest of them," he said.
Field welcomes the discussion inspired by Kretz's bill on wildlife management recovery and geographic species diversity.
Relocating wolves is supposed to occur when an area becomes overrun, Field said. He said residents in Kretz's district face a "disproportionate share of wolf recolonization and depredations," impacting livestock and wildlife.
"The bill simply outlines the fact that if it's great to have wolves in northeast Washington, it should be great to have them throughout Washington," Field said. "The folks that want to oppose the bill are going to have to come up with some pretty interesting reasons why it's not a good idea to have wolves in other portions of the state."
He expects Kretz's bill to have a hearing before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Friedman called for Kretz to stand down and reach out to urban legislators.
"Now it's time for people to stick their necks out a bit and get a little uncomfortable," Friedman said. "We're ready to do that, and encourage our friends in Olympia to do that. I hope Mr. Kretz can do the same."
Kretz said he went around to most "avidly pro-wolf legislators" asking them to co-sponsor the bill, "since they've supported wolves so much in Eastern Washington."
"I didn't get a single taker. I was shocked," he said. "That would be intellectually kind of dishonest, wouldn't it? I thought they would jump at the chance to share in the blessings, but none of them would touch it."