OLYMPIA — Wolves in northeast Washington could be managed differently than in other parts of the state under a bill endorsed Tuesday by the Senate agriculture committee.
If passed by the Legislature, House Bill 2097 would be an unprecedented acknowledgment by lawmakers that wolves have affected life in one corner of the state, even though statewide recovery has lagged.
“We envisioned recovery on a statewide basis. It really hasn’t worked out that way,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joel Kretz, who represents northeast Washington.
“The impacts have been huge, and we really haven’t figured out a way to deal with that. It’s something we have to deal with or we’re going to be losing the livestock industry up there.”
The bill passed the House unanimously last month and received bipartisan support from the Democrat-controlled Senate committee. The legislation directs Fish and Wildlife to develop plans to minimize conflicts between wolves and livestock that distinguishes between regions that have met recovery goals and those that have not. The bill leaves it up to Fish and Wildlife to figure out the specifics.
Washington’s wolf plan carves the state into three regions and calls for each to have a reproducing population of wolves. The eastern one-third of Washington has surpassed recovery goals, while the the North Cascades and South Cascades are not close to the goals.
Fish and Wildlife already is reviewing the status of wolves and supports the bill, the department’s wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said at a hearing Tuesday.
The Cattle Producers of Washington and environmental group Conservation Northwest also supported the bill, as did the Colville Confederated Tribes in northeast Washington. The tribe allows some hunting by tribal members on its reservation in Okanogan and Ferry counties.
The tribe’s lobbyist, Michael Moran, said that the tribe has been plagued in recent years by wildfires and wolves. “Tribal members do raise cattle themselves, and the wolf situation is another problem the tribe has had to endure,” he said.
Center for Biological Diversity attorney and wildlife advocate Sophia Ressler told the committee the organization opposes managing wolves differently by region.
The center is suing Fish and Wildlife to bar the department from resorting to killing wolves to stop attacks on livestock. The suit is pending in Thurston County Superior Court.
Currently, Fish and Wildlife has jurisdiction over wolves in the eastern one-third of Washington. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife is proposing to take wolves off the federally protected species throughout the Lower 48, including Central and Western Washington.
The bill also calls for the state to fund non-lethal measures to prevent and investigate depredations, especially in Stevens and Ferry counties.
The Senate committee amended the version passed by the House, removing a deadline for the Fish and Wildlife Commission to decide whether wolves should remain a state-protected species. Martorello said the department planned to present a status review anyway to the commission in December.