Colville Tribes Speak Out At Spokane Wolf Meeting

The Fish & Wildlife Commission’s fourth of four meetings on WDFW’s proposed final wolf management plan in Spokane yesterday yielded another glimpse into largely overlooked — or at least under reported — tribal positions on wolf recovery in Washington.

If you’ve watched this blog this past July, you got a taste for Colville Confederated Tribes thinking when biologists there confirmed that canid scat found on their sprawling Northeast Washington reservation last winter was indeed wolf poop.

Though there were no resident packs there at the time and the scat was most likely left by a transient wolf or wolves, Natural Resources Department manager Joe Peone told us, “Our priority for the Colville Tribes is to provide sustenance for our members.”

He reiterated that premise on Thursday in Spokane.

Reported the Associated Press‘s Nicholas K. Geranois:

The tribes told members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on Thursday that a plan to restore at least five breeding pairs of wolves in Eastern Washington has the potential to reduce herds of elk, deer and moose on its reservation.

Tribal members harvest up to 1,000 deer, 400 elk and 50 moose each year, and worry a large increase in the number of wolves will increase competition for the animals.

The tribe wants to ensure the state wolf management plan provides a balance between the needs of wolves and hunters, Peone said.

It’s a hot-button topic amongst nontribal hunters and state game wardens, but through treaties and court decisions, a couple dozen tribes have off-reservation hunting rights in the state, including on state and national forest lands in a thick swath of Washington that basically cuts diagonally from Neah Bay to Heller Bar. That means that WDFW and tribal natural resources departments are managing and policing the same herds for their own constituents.

However, as the state’s developed its recovery plan for Canis lupus, to a degree input from the tribes has been missing.

Which is not to say they have been excluded.

As Jeff Holmes and I reported in the October 2011 issue of Northwest Sportsman, WDFW insists that all tribes “were invited to join the process in 2007. (In January 2010, the Makah Tribal Council submitted an eight-page comment on the draft management plan, the Muckleshoot Tribal Wildlife Program a five-page letter.)”

And you can find these back-and-forths in the plan:

Comment: Wolves have a cultural role for our tribe; however,the ungulate populations that our tribal members rely on for subsistence are of significantly higher priority. Therefore, we don’t want wolves in our area.

WDFW response: As mentioned in Chapter 2 of the plan, wolf management may vary among tribes in the state.

Comment: Concerned that wolves could be adversely affected by tribal hunting following removal from the federal Endangered Species Act.

WDFW response: While wolves are federally listed in Washington, tribes are subject to restrictions under the federal Endangered Species Act. After federal delisting, tribes may choose to develop their own management plans and regulations regarding wolves. These may or may not be consistent with the state wolf plan. If issues were to arise over inconsistencies, they would be discussed in government-to-government consultations between WDFW and the tribes.

Comment: WDFW made very little effort to include tribal participation in developing the plan. The only involvement the tribes had was through the Wolf Interagency Committee, which has only had 2 meetings over the past 2.5 years, and little participation in developing the plan. It would have been appropriate for the tribes to participate in developing the plan given their co-manager role.

WDFW response: The Wolf Working Group is a citizen advisory group, whereas Washington state government, including WDFW, works with tribes on a government to government basis. Tribes were asked to provide peer review and to comment on the draft plan, and some did so. Tribes can also develop their own wolf management plans for tribal lands.

These days tribes outside that above-mentioned swath — the Colville and Kalispell reservations fall outside it but the Colville have rights to hunt the “North Half” between their reservation and the Canadian border — are increasingly asserting their role in managing fish and wildlife.

Holmes, who reported that a tribal biologist with the Kalispels, in extreme Northeast Washington, said, “We were not invited” to wolf plan discussions, detailed how the tribe is working on a host of wildlife and wolf projects in Pend Oreille County and elsewhere in their 2-million-acre ceded area:

Whatever the disconnect, the Kalispels are now engaged in the wolf issue, seeking to document them and other predators throughout the Selkirks.

“At this point, most of our work is geared toward locating, photographing and collecting DNA evidence via hair snag from lynx, fisher, grizzly and black bear, and other predators,” said (Bart) George. “The tribe was also recently invited by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to join a genetic profiling project of the gray wolf to determine which subspecies lived where.”

“At the state level, one important thing we can do to influence wolf management at this point,”George added, as we walked into a waft of foul stench nearing the bait of pike and beef blood at the first set, “is to encourage and conduct our own ungulate research to find out more specifically, you know,what are wolves doing to the herds? WDFW can’t follow every lead. No one has that kind of time and money,but we need to know what we’ve got up here and how much their predation is affecting herds. Two thirds of Pend Oreille County has had no official howling surveys conducted, and there are frequent reports of wolves from the Canadian border all the way Scotia Road south of Newport.”

Back at the Spokane meeting, commissioners heard more of the now familiar comments on wolves. Here are links to stories:

KXLY, Wolf Controversy in Spokane

Spokane Spokesman-Review, Panel considers wolf plan

Hunters also provided testimony, some of which can be seen here.

This was the fourth of four meetings before the Fish & Wildlife Commission. WDFW has held numerous meetings with the public and its Wolf Working Group since 2007. The commission is “expected to take action on the plan” at its upcoming December meeting.

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