An unexpected email from the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission office this afternoon states that the members of the citizen panel will meet via teleconference this Friday to “discuss and possibly make a decision regarding rulemaking relative to wolf management.”
While the complete story has yet to emerge, it appears that the meeting has been prompted by a letter from state lawmakers.
With the state’s population of wild canids estimated at at least 51 and possibly as many as 100, wolf-related legislation has surged and crawled its way through Olympia this session, including bills to fund WDFW’s work on the species and allowing pet and livestock owners to shoot wolves attacking their animals in the eastern third of Washington.
A letter signed by a bipartisan group of ten lawmakers from both chambers, both parties and from both sides of the mountains appears to urge the commission to adopt an emergency rule that would allow the latter measure in the federally delisted part of the state as a way to “grease the skids” to make more money available from the Legislature for nonlethal conflict management, according to a source close to the situation.
The letter, dated yesterday, points to certain state laws the commission is empowered to act under, and with wolf populations increasing especially quickly in Northeast Washington, the four senators and six representatives “ask the commission to act” on that authority.
“Utilizing emergency rulemaking procedures at the earliest possible time to amend WAC 232-36-051 and allow private individuals to protect domestic animals against an actively attacking wolf is a minimal, but critical step, towards the balance of interest and outcomes necessary to assure that Washington can continue to enjoy the recovery of this important species. We look forward to working with the commission as it moves forward in this important rulemaking process,” the lawmakers write.
They include Senators Kirk Pearson and John Smith, both Republicans, and Senators Kevin Ranker and Christine Rolfes, both Democrats, as well as Democratic Representatives Brian Blake, Hans Dunshee and Kristine Lytton and Republican Representatives Joel Kretz, Shelly Short and Bruce Chandler.
During a late March hearing before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee, on which five of the six representatives sit, a high-ranking state wildlife manager told the panel that WDFW basically supported the tenets of SB 5187 — shooting wolves attacking domestic animals without a permit from the commission — that similar provisions had been in effect in Idaho and Wyoming, that during early years of the reintroduction only three wolves were taken, and that it wouldn’t affect the overall goal of wolf recovery in Washington.
Dave Ware also estimated that wolf work over the next two years would cost the agency $2.3 million, and that WDFW was looking at a shortfall of $1.5 million. WDFW has also supported the creation of a new wolf license plate, as well as listing the species as big game for post-recovery hunts and making it a $4,000 fine to poach one.
We’ve left a message with Chairwoman Miranda Wecker, but in the meanwhile were able to reach Commissioner Jay Kehne of Omak, who said he was only told about the meeting today.
He termed looking at caught-in-the-act provisions “pretty appropriate,” and said that if they’d passed the legislature, the commission would have needed to look at them anyway to better define their use.
He said that allowing ranchers, landowners and others to protect their animals from attacks or threatened attack goes a long way towards maintaining the essential social tolerances for wolves.
The other aspect of wolf recovery that’s really reared its head this session, he said, is funding nonlethal management.
“Having those dollars is just critical,” he said. “The combo of those two is good, I think.”
UPDATE: Originally, WDFW said the teleconference would be broadcast online via TVW, but because legislative doings is that channel’s priority when lawmakers are in session, it won’t be able to be heard from computers. However, audio will be posted on the commission’s webpage afterwards, and you can still show up at Department of Fish and Wildlife headquarters, Natural Resources Building, 5th Floor, 1111 Washington Street SE, Olympia, and hear audio. WDFW is asking that those who plan to come to the office contact commission staff to make sure enough space is available.
One more note about the commission and upcoming call: Gary Douvia of Kettle Falls, appointed to the panel back in 2007 and its vice chair for the past four years, will not be part of the discussions.
His name has been dropped from the list of commission members, we noticed this afternoon. Though his term expired at the end of 2012 — just like Wecker’s and Chuck Perry’s, though they continue to serve until replaced — it wasn’t immediately clear why, but we’re inquiring with the governor’s office.
More details on all this as they come forward.