Wolves may get an island home

A bill in the Washington House would move wolves to a island in Puget Sound.

OLYMPIA — An Eastern Washington legislator has introduced a bill to release wolves on a Puget Sound island, mocking a proposal to prohibit the state Department of Fish and Wildlife from killing wolves to protect livestock in his district.

House Bill 1639, sponsored by Rep. Joel Kretz, would move wolves to Bainbridge Island, represented by Rep. Sherry Appleton, a Democrat. Kretz, a Republican, said Monday that Appleton’s bill to bar Fish and Wildlife from ever using lethal control was insulting to his constituents who live near wolves.

“What you’re hearing is ignorance from Puget Sound. If it’s not responded to, it’s taken as gospel over time, and people need to look at the other side,” he said. “Maybe we can have a real discussion about wolves now.”

Through a spokesman, Appleton declined to comment. The lethal-control policy that she proposes to end was developed by a Wolf Advisory Group that included the Humane Society of the United States and Defenders of Wildlife.

Neither Kretz’s nor Appleton’s bill will likely get a hearing, but they underscore that from a policy perspective wolves are viewed differently from afar than from upclose. Kretz’s district has 19 of the state’s 24 wolfpacks. In 2013, he sponsored a bill to share wolves with Whidbey Island, north of Seattle. The latest bill has the same giving spirit.

“The Legislature finds that enthusiasm continues to build throughout the state by the opportunities created as Washington’s wolf population continues to grow,” the bill declares. “Unfortunately, only a limited number of Washington residents are able to appreciate these majestic creatures in the wild. While the number of packs continues to multiply, they remain largely isolated in concentrated pockets of Eastern Washington.”

The bill singles out Bainbridge Island as the only place Fish and Wildlife could move wolves.

The 27-square-mile island is 35 minutes from Seattle by ferry and home to about 25,000 people. A New York Times travel article stated that “commuters, weekenders and retirees” choose the island to “escape the buzz of Seattle.” Vogue magazine described the island as “gorgeous” and “a regular backdrop for style bloggers and Instagrammers.”

Kretz’s bill asserts the island would be ideal for a wolf sanctuary, attracting tourists and keeping the population of other species in check.

“The geographic isolation of Bainbridge Island creates a natural border to keep the wolves isolated to an area where they can be protected, studied and, most importantly, admired by the region’s animal lovers,” the bill states.

The bill would adapt Fish and Wildlife’s lethal-removal policy to the island and its “native food sources.”

The department would be authorized to consider lethal removal after wolves killed four dogs or four cats or two children.

Kretz said he wanted to highlight that wolves roam close to people in his district. “They are right among the houses now,” he said.

Kretz represents Ferry, Pend Oreille, Okanogan and Stevens counties. For many years, he and other district lawmakers have told colleagues in Olympia that wolves are growing problem. The Legislature has not deviated from a plan to protect wolves until they move farther west on their own.

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