Washington wolf

A legislative committee has approved a bill calling on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine whether wolves in the eastern one-third of the state should remain protected under state law.

OLYMPIA — A northeast Washington legislator Friday laid out for the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee the state of ranching in wolf country.

“My folks are at the breaking point right now. I’ve got people who are not going to continue in the business,” said Rep. Joel Kretz, who figures about 90 percent of the state’s wolves are in the four counties he represents.

“We’re going to see more family ranches going by the wayside. That might not sound like a big deal to some of you in more urban areas, but it is the base economy in some of these counties,” he said. “It doesn’t just affect the rancher. It affects every small town up there.”

Before adjourning, the Democratic-controlled committee voted 11-3 to endorse Kretz’s bill directing the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to consider whether it’s time to take wolves off the state’s endangered species list in the eastern one-third of Washington.

Wolves are well established there. Wolves in the eastern one-third of Washington were removed from the federal-protected species list in 2011, while retaining protection in the western two-thirds of Washington.

House Bill 2097 wouldn’t dictate an outcome. It would require the Fish and Wildlife Commission to make a de-listing decision by June 30, 2020. Kretz called the bill “minimalistic” — nudging Fish and Wildlife Commission to make a call.

“At least this puts a light at the end of the tunnel for people who are hopeless now,” Kretz said after the meeting.

Regardless of whether the bill passes, Fish and Wildlife will review the status of wolves and present a report to the commission in December, the department’s wolf policy coordinator, Donny Martorello, said. If the commission decides to de-list wolves, the decision would have to apply statewide, he said.

Environmental groups oppose regional de-listing.

Wolf Haven International Executive Director Diane Gallegos told the committee that Kretz’s bill would interrupt progress between environmentalists and ranchers in reducing conflicts over wolves.

“This bill will be seen as adversarial by some of the stakeholders out there,” said Gallegos, a member of the department’s Wolf Advisory Group.

The Washington Cattlemen’s Association, Cattle Producers of Washington and Washington Farm Bureau endorsed Kretz’s bill.

Statewide, wolves are far from becoming established, but they are common and affecting life in northeast Washington, Kretz said.

“I get pictures of wolves everyday that are not in a recognized pack. They are all over the place. The thing that concerns me is we’re getting pictures in people’s backyards, and we haven’t seen so much of that before,” he said.

“I’ve been going home every year for the last few years telling folks, ‘Hang on a little bit longer. We’re making some progress in Olympia,’” he said. “If we don’t do something — even this tiny, modest approach — I don’t know that I can go back and look anybody in the eye and tell them, ‘Hang on a little bit longer.’ “

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