OLYMPIA — Washington’s much discussed, cussed and litigated wolf policy would apply to the western two-thirds of the state if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes gray wolves off the endangered species throughout the Lower 48.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife already manages wolves in the eastern one-third of Washington. In some cases, the department resorts to lethal control to stop wolf attacks on livestock, an option unavailable under federal jurisdiction.
State Rep. Joel Kretz, whose northeast Washington district straddles the line, said ranchers have lost cattle on the federally managed side. “If we had federal delisting, we’d have more flexibility,” he said. “It would make a big difference.”
Federal protection was removed for gray wolves in the eastern one-third of Washington in 2011. Wolves have remained a state-protected species, a status that would be unaffected by federal action.
“We are prepared for this proposal as we have an existing wolf conservation and management plan that covers all of Washington state,” Fish and Wildlife Deputy Assistant Director Mick Cope said in a written statement.
Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said March 6 that USFWS would soon propose the nationwide de-listing of gray wolves. The Obama administration made the same proposal in 2013.
“We’ve been teased with this before,” said Okanogan County rancher Vic Stokes. “I think it’s well overdue.”
While most Washington wolves are in the eastern one-third of the state, there were at least three packs and one lone wolf in the federally protected area at the end of 2017, according to Fish and Wildlife. The department has yet to release its 2018 count.
The department’s lethal-control policy is being challenged in Thurston County Superior Court by the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands. The two environmental groups claim Fish and Wildlife adopted the policy without adequate scientific or public review.
The Center for Biological Diversity planned to hold a rally Thursday in Seattle featuring activists in wolf masks.
“Wolves are still struggling to recover here in Washington, and Trump’s plan will only make things worse,” Sophia Ressler, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney, said in a written statement. “But this isn’t over. Americans from coast to coast stand ready to fight this plan with everything we’ve got.”
Conservation Northwest, a Washington-based environmental group, said it did not expect federal de-listing to have a significant affect on wolves in Washington.
“Wolf recovery is progressing well in Washington, and our wolves will remain a state endangered species until state recovery goals are met,” the group’s spokesman, Chase Gunnell, said in an email.
Wolves are well-established in Eastern Washington and are moving into the North Cascades. Wolves have made no documented progress in settling into the South Cascades, a recovery goal.
Kretz has introduced a bill directing Fish and Wildlife to study whether wolves are firmly established in Washington. If the yes is answer, the Fish and Wildlife Commission would consider changes in how wolves are managed.
The bill has been reworked since it was endorsed by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to preclude the commission from taking wolves off the state-protected list, but it could allow for the department to manage wolves differently where they are more numerous.
“They could be more responsive to the real-world situation in the northeast” corner of the state, Kretz said.
Kretz, a Republican, said he did not think Wednesday’s announcement would derail the bill. “I’ve had a lot of help from Democrats on this,” he said.