OLYMPIA — Wolves are overrunning cattle country in northeast Washington and some should be moved to other parts of the state, Rep. Joel Kretz, an Okanogan County Republican, said Wednesday.
Kretz warned about waning tolerance for wolves in his district. The four rural counties he represents hosts 17 of the state’s 20 wolfpacks.
“It’s a war zone over there,” he said. “It’s going to blow up, and I can’t stop it.”
Kretz was testifying in front of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on his proposal to ease what he called his district’s wolf “surplus.” He choked up talking about a young rancher trying to establish himself while warding off wolves. “We have to start coming up with solutions, instead of putting our heads in the sand,” Kretz said.
Kretz’s House Bill 2771 would direct the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to relocate within three years an unspecified number of wolves from regions where livestock have been attacked.
Kretz has made the proposal before, and it has gone nowhere. He said after the hearing he hopes to gain support for at least initiating an environmental study on whether to move wolves.
A study that satisfied the State Environmental Policy Act could take several years.
“I’m just trying to move something,” Kretz said.
The agriculture committee has eight Democrats and seven Republicans. The chairman, Aberdeen Democrat Brian Blake, said he may take the unusual step of bringing Kretz’s bill up for a committee vote without knowing the outcome.
“It’s a reasonable request. That’s why I may put it up for a free-for-all vote and see if he has the votes,” Blake said. “I don’t know where folks are on this. I think there’s a great recognition of the unfairness of what those communities are facing.”
A House committee vote on translocating wolves would be a first. Even if the bill passes the committee, the prospects would be dim in the full House and Senate.
Blake agreed with Kretz that northeast Washington needs relief. But he said he can’t support taking wolves from there and introducing them somewhere else. “I have a visceral opposition to translocation,” he said.
Washington’s wolf plan, adopted in 2011, calls for wildlife managers to translocate wolves if the animals aren’t spreading out on their own. State policy calls for wolves to be established in Eastern Washington and at least as far west as the Cascades. Recovery appears at least several years away.
WDFW occasionally moves wildlife to increase populations in an area. The department’s wolf policy coordinator, Donny Martorello, said he does not think it will be necessary with wolves.
“We’re feeling confident we don’t need to translocate wolves to get wolves on the westside,” he said.
Martorello also noted that moving wolves to the western two-thirds of Washington would put them under more-stringent federal protection. Wolves are not federally protected in the eastern one-third of Washington, so the state can kill wolves there to stop chronic attacks on livestock.
Kretz said he would hope moving wolves west prod the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to take wolves in Western Washington off its protected-species list.