COLVILLE WILDLIFE BIOLOGISTS CAPTURED THIS LARGE FEMALE WOLF IN SEPTEMBER NEAR STRAWBERRY MOUNTAIN. (CCT)

Colville Tribes Holding Washington’s First Wolf Hunt

UPDATED DEC. 5, 2012, 8:30 A.M. For the first time in the state’s modern history, a regulated wolf hunt is going on in Washington.

With approval recently from the business council, a season began about a week ago or so on the “south half” of the Colville Confederated Tribes’ sprawling reservation in Okanogan and Ferry Counties where at least two packs and possibly a third roam.

This is different from the hunt that state Department of Fish & Wildlife officers went on for the livestock-depredating Wedge wolves in late summer. It’s more like those now going on in Idaho and Montana.

It also makes the Colvilles probably the only tribe in the Northern Rockies to be hunting wolves, according to a high-ranking federal wolf recovery official.

It wasn’t immediately clear if any wolves had been taken so far. Northwest Sportsman made numerous efforts to reach tribal wildlife managers yesterday and today for their perspective but without success.

However, hunting regulations posted online provide some details about the hunt.

A total of nine permits are available to Colville members. Season runs through February 28 or until harvest quotas are met, and the daily limit is one wolf of either sex.

COLVILLE WILDLIFE BIOLOGISTS CAPTURED THIS LARGE FEMALE WOLF IN SEPTEMBER NEAR STRAWBERRY MOUNTAIN. TRIBAL HUNTERS ARE BEING ASKED NOT TO SHOOT IT OR TWO OTHER COLLARED WOLVES (CCT)

In the past, Colville spokesmen have said that while they have spiritual connections to the animals — the name of their first pack, the Nc’icns (pronounced nn-seetsin) means wolf in Okanogan — they rate the availability of deer, elk and moose for their members highly. It’s been clear for nearly a year that some sort of hunt would occur.

THE TRIBES CAN HOLD A SEASON because their lands are inside that part of the Northwest where wolves were Congressionally delisted in spring 2011.

In addition, they’re a sovereign nation.

“They get to manage wolves on their reservation any way they choose,” said the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s game division manager Dave Ware yesterday afternoon.

Wolves elsewhere in the Evergreen State and outside of their reservation boundaries remain protected by state and/or federal ESA listings.

Ware says the Colvilles contacted WDFW several weeks ago as their wolf management plan was in its final stages of development and advised the state that they were considering a hunt but needed final approval from the council.

The agency is “not really” concerned about the hunt having an impact on statewide recovery, Ware says.

Outside the reservation there are at least four other confirmed packs in Northeast Washington, two unconfirmed packs and word in recent weeks of wolves to the west, south and east of the Wedge wolves’ former territory — and now apparently tracks right through it.

Additionally, there are two known packs in the Cascades and two unconfirmed ones there and elsewhere.

And yesterday Ware told Northwest Sportsman of unconfirmed reports east of Enumclaw and in the upper Cowlitz Valley, though the latter area has also seen releases of wolf-dog hybrids in the past.

A high-ranking WDFW wolf manager recently estimated that there were around 100 statewide; a final official year-end estimate is due out in a month.

AS FOR THE HUNT, the Colvilles have divided their 2,100-square-mile reservation into four wolf management zones, three of which are open for hunting. Three tags are available in each zone. No hunting will occur on state, federal or private lands in the “North Half.”

THE COLVILLE TRIBES' HUNT WILL OCCUR ON THREE OF FOUR WOLF MANAGEMENT ZONES ON THE "SOUTH HALF" OF ITS RESERVATION -- THE EXCEPTION IS THE OMAK LAKE WMZ. (CCT)

Additionally, “special predator permits” may be given out through the CCT Fish and Wildlife Department for lands to the northeast of Omak Lake and in the southeast corner of the reservation, the Hell’s Gate Game Reserve where Lake Roosevelt hooks north.

Hunters may use electronic calls, but can’t use radio telemetry to track down collared wolves. At least three members of the Nc’icn and Strawberry Packs were captured and fitted with GPS devices earlier this year by tribal biologists and a retired federal wolf manager. Those animals are all off limits to harvest because of the importance of the tracking data from the collars.

The Nc’icns occupy the northeastern corner of the reservation and recently went north onto state lands in the Sherman Creek Wildlife Area. The Strawberry wolf appears to have remained on tribal lands, according to a source. There may also be two wolves east of the Sanpoil and south of Twin Lakes. Additionally, a U.S. Forest Service employee encountered two canids not far north of the reservation boundary near Hall Mountain this past summer.

Any wolves killed must be reported within 72 hours (509-634-2110) and its hide taken to a tribal office for sealing.

WOLF ADVOCATES FACE SOMETHING of a conundrum: They can prod WDFW this way and that, and friendly state senators can call the agency in for hearings, but they can’t really muscle the tribes.

“Wouldn’t we be better off moving them?” wondered Conservation Northwest’s executive director Mitch Friedman this morning.

He’d hoped to broker a deal between the Colvilles and Yakama Nation to translocate wolves to Washington’s South Cascades.

In winter 2011 the Yakamas provided a glimpse of how tribes are not bound by the same red tape as state or federal government agencies when they brought 99 pronghorn antelope from Nevada back to their South-central Washington reservation in a lightning-fast capture-and-trailering operation.

Friedman added that he’s a bit alarmed by the number of available permits for the apparent low number of animals on the reservation, but then again, with now two and a half seasons under their belt, hunters in the Northern Rockies can attest that just because you have a tag doesn’t mean you’ll kill a wolf, let alone see one in the woods.

Tribal hunting seasons could impact statewide recovery goals, which require 15 successful breeding pairs — two adults and two pups through the end of the year — in certain numbers around the state for three straight years, but there will probably be enough wolves elsewhere in WDFW’s eastern recovery region to make up for any shot on the reservation. Those on reservations count towards recovery objectives. State hunts could only begin after those are met.

NORTHWESTERN TRIBES HAVE ALL SORTS OF different values when it comes to wolves, notes Hilary Cooley, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s regional wolf coordinator in Boise.

Some have no desire to hunt them because of their beliefs — the Nez Perce in Idaho have been heavily involved in management and monitoring but have no seasons — while others have concerns about the impact they may have on big game populations and members’ ability to provide meat for their families, she says.

“I don’t know of any other tribe other than the Colville Tribes in Washington,” said Mike Jimenez, the Service’s national wolf coordinator, in a voice mail Tuesday morning. “I’m pretty sure there are no other tribes in the Rocky Mountains that are hunting wolves, per se.”

An article in Indian Country Today last month summarized a recent survey of Colville members:

Thirty percent of respondents said that spiritual or cultural importance [of wolves] was very important, while 47 percent said it was of little or no importance. Asked what they would consider to be sound reasons for harvesting a wolf, just 16 percent said for ceremonial or spiritual purposes such as regalia, whereas 40 percent responded that it would be to help promote healthy elk, deer and moose populations.

Predation on cattle didn’t seem to be a big concern. Only 20 percent listed that as their biggest fear, and in another question asking if the tribe should pay damages for confirmed cattle depredation, nearly 64 percent said no. When it came to wolf management, results showed a high preference for hunting by tribal members and U.S. Fish and Wildlife (Service) biologists. Only 13 percent felt wolves should not be hunted at all. Poisoning was definitely not desired, with only 16 percent saying it was acceptable. These results will all factor into management plans should wolf populations continue to increase.

IN OTHER RECENT WASHINGTON WOLF NEWS, a state wildlife biologist and game warden along with Stevens County Sheriff Kendall Allen recently investigated a dead cow discovered near Northport. It was marked down as unknown what killed it by “all parties” as they could not determine why it died, according to WDFW’s Nov. 19 weekly Wildlife Program report.

USFWS’s Coolley also tells Northwest Sportsman that the status review of wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon will not be finished in December as was stated early last month (and at the end of September in midsummer, and …). The long-in-the-works document which may or may not turn into a listing proposal is “nearing the end” of federal biologists’ analysis and will then need approval from higher-ups, she says.

Last week, WDFW staffers underwent more wolf training — ecology, depredation, etc. — led by the Service’s national wolf coordinator, Mike Jiminez.

And as Scott Sandsberry details in this story, snippets from the BBC’s Land of the Lost Wolves film will be shown in Yakima tonight. We reported on that here.