A Western Washington lawmaker has introduced a bill to bar the state Department of Fish and Wildlife from killing wolves in the eastern one-third of the state.
Federal law already prohibits lethal control of wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington. The prohibition should be statewide, proposes Rep. Sherry Appleton, a Democrat who represents Bainbridge Island across Puget Sound from Seattle.
Rep. Joel Kretz, a Republican in wolf-populated northeast Washington, said he may draw inspiration from the proposal. “It makes me think of introducing a bill to turn Bainbridge Island into a wolf reserve,” he said Monday.
Kretz really did sponsor legislation in 2013 to release wolves on Whidbey Island, also in Puget Sound. It was an offer — derided as a stunt and unaccepted — to share wolves with lawmakers who oppose culling livestock-attacking packs.
Since then, the number of wolves in Kretz’s district has more than doubled, while no wolf has been documented farther west than eastern Skagit County.
Kretz said ranchers in his district have come “10,000 miles” in accepting wolves and working to minimize conflicts, but shooting wolves when all else fails remains contentious. He called Appleton’s bill “discouraging.”
“That’s the biggest problem we have in the state — the disconnect,” Kretz said. “How could anybody be so tone deaf to the real-world problems people are having with wolves?”
Efforts to reach Appleton on Monday were unsuccessful. She also introduced a bill to prohibit Fish and Wildlife from using hound hunters to pursue and kill cougars, bobcats, black bears and lynx to protect livestock, pets or humans.
On the same day the two bills were filed, House Democrats announced Appleton will chair the Council of State Governments West’s public safety committee. The council is a forum for developing policy ideas for 13 states.
Appleton’s proposals appear to have little chance of passing. House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said Monday that the wolf bill was “unworkable” and called the hound-pursuit bill “an emotional response.”
He said Appleton’s wolf bill would “blow up the cooperation” between different groups. “It seems counter-productive,” he said.
Fish and Wildlife wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said lethal removal is an element in meeting the needs of everyone concerned about wolves. Other elements include measures that foster a healthy number of wolves, as well as deer and elk. Martorello said the department sees these seemingly disparate goals as complementary.
“There is no suite of non-lethal tools that are guaranteed to prevent depredations or change behavior once depredations start,” he said.
Appleton’s wolf bill would allow Fish and Wildlife to relocate wolves that are attacking livestock. Fish and Wildlife officials have looked at doing that and decided against it.
Wolves have a tendency to roam back to their original location. The journey also increases the chances they will have fatal encounters with humans, vehicles and other wolves, according to wildlife managers. “It’s risky to move across the landscape,” Martorello said.
At the Legislature’s direction, Fish and Wildlife will study moving wolves from northeast Washington to unoccupied areas to speed up recovery. Fish and Wildlife plans to start the study early next year.
Kretz said he may introduce a bill to remove wolves from the state-protected species list in Eastern Washington, where wolves have surpassed recovery goals. The bill wouldn’t dictate how wolves would be managed, but it might call for a new group of northeast Washington residents to work out a post de-listing plan, he said.
Kretz said he may pitch the policy as a chance to show how wolves can be handled once they’ve colonized other parts of the state.