Stressing Flexibility, Addressing Hunter, Livestock Concerns, WA FWC Approves Wolf Plan

UPDATED DEC. 5, 2011, WITH IMAGES SHOWING APPROVED AMENDMENTS TO WOLF PLAN, AND HOW THOSE IDEAS CHANGED AS THE PLAN PROGRESSED OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS.

For all the controversy over the past five years, the Fish & Wildlife Commission was remarkably united in approving a management and recovery plan for wolves in Washington that also addressed some hunter and livestock owner concerns.

“I think the time has arrived,” said chairwoman Miranda Wecker at about 10:45 this morning, and called for a vote on the 521-page document as her six fellow members had amended it.

There were no nays heard.

She then added, “I think it’s time for a break.”

Over and over throughout the two-hour-and-45-minute discussion leading up to that moment, commissioners used words like “flexibility.” To the final plan that Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife staff sent them in late July, they made a handful of amendments — rejiggering the regional numbers needed to meet statewide recovery goals, jump-starting the downlisting process two ways, further and better clarifying how to address wolf-ungulate conflict, and giving livestock owners more flexibility in dealing with wolves attacking their animals on public ground.

The amendments largely came from a set of revisions the commission was handed after hearing from ranchers and hunters at the first three of the citizen panel’s four public meetings on the wolf plan this past summer and fall. The changes were limited to what was “within” the recommended plan that came out of the Wolf Working Group, state staff work and scientific peer review; larger changes would have opened up the agency to lawsuits.

Watching remotely on TVW, I heard no “nays” during any of the votes on the amendments and final plan. WDFW reports it was approved unanimously.

As for the all-important question of funding elements of the plan such as monitoring how wolves are affecting our herds, the commissioners keyed on the expected late-February 2012 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decision on the listing status of wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington. Currently, they’re endangered and under Federal control west of Highways 97, 17 and 395.

Not only will a strong, scientifically based plan show that the state is ready to manage wolves on its own — and provide all regions the same protections — but also possibly lead to Federal grants to help figure out how many are roaming around the state and monitor their production.

Phil Anderson, director of the Department of Fish & Wildlife, said that in discussions with the USFWS, the Feds sounded “anxious to downlist wolves as soon as possible, anxious to turn over management to the state.”

Currently there are five packs and 25 to 30 adults and yearlings. That number will likely rise when end-of-the-year counts are completed. WDFW has also requested more money from the state legislature to support management activities.

Before the final vote, the commissioners voiced their own thoughts, even paraphrasing General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Dr. Valerius Geist, the Canadian deer researcher.

Wecker, a resident of Naselle in Southwest Washington, said she found herself conflicted last night and this morning but came to a number of conclusions, including “attaining and retaining management authority for the state.”

She pointed out that currently the state has an “excellent relationship” with USFWS, and called the clusterfunkle of management in the Northern Rockies, which saw wolves exceed recovery goals in 2002 but state management delayed by lawsuits, “absolutely terrible.”

She also outlined what the plan is not.

“It’s not a rejection of communities that live in wolf habitat. It’s unfair to impose costs of wolf recovery on our fellow citizens,” she said.

Vice-chair Gary Douvia, who lives in Kettle Falls and has been active in following up on sportsman requests in his region, made a pair of amendments addressing wolf-ungulate conflicts.

In closing comments, he said he’s particularly concerned about the potential economic impact to his region, among the state’s most productive hunting grounds, and earlier in the meeting stated that there’s a big risk to the department’s cash flow if wolf impacts are too great.

“If we lose these populations and hunters, we’d probably lose 10 to 20 percent of license revenue,” he said.

He said he thinks the state is behind the wolf population.

“In my estimation, what’s most important is to get into the plan,” he said, and constantly allocate more and more resources to it.

David Jennings of Olympia didn’t make any final comments, but noting the commission had “found some rubbing points,” was instrumental in introducing several changes to the plan, including changing the breeding pair requirements from at least 15 breeding pairs over three consecutive years in three regions (five in the eastern third of the state, four in the North Cascades, six in the elk-rich Southern Cascades/Southwest Washington/Olympics) to four-four-four-plus three anywhere in the state.

He also moved to give ranchers lethal take provisions if they catch wolves attacking stock on public grazing allotments at all listing statuses, there had been depredations in the area already and WDFW isn’t available to respond. Previously the first part was only going to be allowed on private ground.

“My logic for amending the recommended plan is that I’ve come to appreciate the high probability of impacts on livestock from wolves,” he said.

Rollie Schmitten, a Lake Wenatchee resident who’s served in various federal roles, said the plan was the most controversial item the commission had dealt with.

He introduced a pair of motions that could give final state delisting a head start. One allows for it to be initiated after a single year when as many as 18 breeding pairs occur across the state, the other to begin a status review prior to reaching the 15 breeding pairs over the three regions for three straight years. Commissioners voiced concern that otherwise, there could be up to a 5-year lag between meeting recovery goals and ultimate state delisting.

Schmitten thanked the Wolf Working Group for their years of toil with state staff in helping craft the recommended plan, then said the commission’s amendments “improved” it and urged the members to vigilantly protect the state’s game herds if need be. He added that the state would “lose control” of the situation if management activities aren’t funded.

He said he supported the amended plan.

Chuck Perry of Moses Lake also supported it, and said his vision for wolf management was a sustainable population balanced with hunting and minimized conflicts with livestock producers.

He called for strong monitoring and research efforts, and developing strong relationships with those in the field with interactions with wolves.

“Washington is not Idaho, it is not Montana. We don’t know how wolves will occupy Washington. We need to be out there monitoring,” he said.

Dr. Brad Smith of Bellingham cited Eisenhower at D-Day — as soon as the boots hit the beaches, the invasion plan wasn’t as important as the whole planning process had been.

He called the plan a “living document; it was living within the past few days.”

He supported it, calling it a “very solid plan that will evolve into an even stronger plan.”

Conrad Mahnken of Bainbridge Island, a former fisheries biologist, questioned all the modeling that went into trying to figure out just how well wolves will do in Washington as well as their true numbers. He said there was “suspicion, which I’m inclined to believe,” there are more out there and called for accelerated efforts to identify them.

He ended with a quote from a Geist essay that has been circulated of late:

The absolutely precious lesson from our North American experience with wolves in the 20th century is that at low wolf-to-prey ratios wolves grow into very large, shy specimens that shun humans, while greatly enriching our landscape and quality of life. Control will be seen as essential to maintain wolves and robust big game populations and minimize intrusions by wolves into human settlements.

He said he believed that was true, and that the plan was better after its amendments.

Everyone seemed to agree that approving the plan is just the beginning of Washington’s wolf odyssey.

That was among the first things noted by Dale Denney, a Northeast Washington hunting outfitter as he provided a play by play on the commission’s discussion at Hunting Washington.

“We are going to get stuck with this plan as amended. It’s too many wolves to start with and there is great risk of herd losses, but at least there are some good added amendments,” he posted as commissioners spoke.

Later, after it all wrapped up, a member known as jshunt, posted his take on the meeting:

“I am concerned that if the WDFW monitors the wolf population and breeding pair status alone, using their limited resources, their assessment may be a significant underestimate of how many wolves and breeding pairs there actually are.  My point is: I believe we should find some way to work with the WDFW to ensure the state wolf population and number of breeding pairs is assessed as accurately as possible.”

Jack Field, a member of the Wolf Working Group, executive director of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association and frequent speaker at public comment meetings, told the Associated Press that he’d hoped the commission would delay their final vote until after the USFWS delisting decision.

“I’m quite concerned and don’t think the department and the commission have all the information needed to make an educated decision on this,” Field told the AP.

Perry had asked a similar question of state staff, inquiring about the downside of a delay.

The plan would still be there, just not approved, he said.

Anderson, who acted as something of a shepherd for the commission during the meeting, laid out three reasons to vote today, saying it outlined the tools livestock operators would get and enhances the agency’s ability to secure funding from USFWS.

“In conversations all the way to the top, they’re committed to looking hard for funding for us,” he said.

And if there’s no plan, he said that in chatting with USFWS’s chief Washington rep, there’s “virtually little chance if any of changing the listing from endangered to threatened.”

“A plan gets us funding and influence” in the Service’s decision to delist the western two-thirds of the state, he said.

For more from the AP story, go here.

Steve Brown from Capital Press has more from Field and others here.

Conservation Northwest’s Jasmine Minbashian said she was “not enamored” with the final plan — her organization was one member of the Wolf Working Group — but was happy otherwise, calling it a “true compromise” and adding, “It looks like we’ve learned lessons from the Northern Rockies,” and looked forward to helping to finding and monitoring more wolves.”

According to a press release issued by WDFW, the plan goes into immediate effect in the eastern third of the state where Congress voted to delist wolves last spring. The species remains under federal protection and management in the western two-thirds.

And while much of the focus was on the management plan, the associated environmental impact statement bars the state from importing “wolves from other states or seek to increase the wolf population to historic levels under the parameters set for the new wolf management plan.”

For more from WDFW’s news release, go here.

Editor’s note: Our apologies to Commissioner Jennings who was called Kelly instead of his real name, David, in an earlier version of this.

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15 thoughts on “Stressing Flexibility, Addressing Hunter, Livestock Concerns, WA FWC Approves Wolf Plan”

  1. This is a ridiculous move for an agency that is short on funds, (which are provided by hunters) to add consideraqble more expense to their now strapped budget. This issue will cost far more than the Spotted Owl and Sea Lion issues ever did. The hunters and citizens of Washington will be saddled with the bill.

  2. There is not a single rational reason to bring Canadian wolves into Washington. Controlling the present herds of elk and deer is a difficult enough probelm today by the state. Keep the Feds out and keep the wolves out. If wolves are allowed to proliferate in WA this state will become a state with few elk just a Wyomiing has in the last very vew years. The elk herds near Jackson Hole are a great example.

  3. The feds are lying to you I live in Gardiner,MT north entrance of yellowstone park. We were told the elk pop would never drop below 14,000 in the northern herd, it was 20,000 in 1995 down to 5,500 for 15 years the folks that live here see the calf pop drop to 3 out of 100 cows and yet nothing is done we can now shoot 4or 5 wolves (this year) to try and help. what a joke!! Don’t let they get in the state there won’t be any huntable elk, thats what its all about to get rid of elk hunting

  4. What disregard for the sportsman and livestock owners of Washington State. Wolves will have fun with the slaughter. Many hunters will not be able to put elk or deer in their freezer again. Many ranchers will be put out of business because of wolf predation.

  5. A sad day! I don’t believe for a second that just because the commision feels they have a good relationship with USFWS that will change a thing when it actually comes time to delist wolves and finally start to manage numbers of wolves! USFWS has no way, or shown that to be true, to stop the rediculous legal delays that take place when delisting is needed. I’m sure that WY thought they had a good plan worked out with USFWS and had a good relationship with them after all the time it took to create a plan, I’m sure MT thought the same thing, I’m sure ID thought the same thing too…the sad truth is major politics is involved with forced wolf re-introduction and that is almost certainly going to lead to problems just like it did in states that preceeded us! I do agree that if left alone to monitor wolf numbers and breeding pairs of wolves, WDFW cannot to it completely accurately with an already shrinking state budget, and they will not truthfully share those counts with the general public, and sportsman around the state who fund the WDFW with licesnse revenue and tags every year. I fact I do believe, that if WDFW lies to us, more than they already have, and let’s this get out of control like in other states, they also will be facing a decreasing revenue when no one wants to buy tags for animals that are no longer there. Decreased licenses, tags, special hunt apps, out of state money, gone. Then where does all the money come from to ‘monitor’ wolves?! One thing is clear, this will be watched closely by all sportsman, women, and children who have entrusted WDFW to protect and MANAGE our states big game!

  6. This is exactly what the anti-hunters said they needed to do 25 years ago. Balance the predator prey base and then they can stop hunting altogether. They are succeeding with the help of the feds and our so called wildlife commission. The libs and anti hunters have infiltrated our game department under the guise of wildlife department. We foot the bill to buy land and invest big money in our game populations and now they bring Large Northern Canadian Wolves, not the small grey wolf as they tell everyone, These wolves are used to living in extreme cold and darkness through the long northern winters and hunting killing 1500 lb. moose. This is nothing but a holiday for the se extreme extra large predators. I have bought licenses in Washington for the past 38 years, I will not buy one again. The people at the Department of wildlife need to read their MISSION STATEMENT before making decisions that will go against that said statement.

  7. Well, that is it for my hunts up there. No more Elk hunts from me in your state, after what has happend in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, you would think they would learn. What we need to do is reintroduce the grizzly bear in to DC. Im sure they would clean out some of the sick heards of bad politics.

  8. Crazy,one look at the way the U.S. fish and wildlife service has handled the wolf reintroduction in other states, and you can see the writing on the wall in Wa. state for the elk and deer, I see and end to hunting as I and my fellow hunters know it, the elk and deer will not be here to hunt.

  9. I really don’t understand how these people think this is even remotely a good idea. We’re already have wolfs in SE Washington, now they’re going to be introducing more. Insane.

  10. this is totally insane – why does every region need wolves. leave them in the mountains where they already are and control them. why plant a species that has absolutely no predators, other than humans. This is our gov. and the Animal Rights doing, bring em in, let them destroy hunting (as in Idaho elk)let them destroy livestock, let them kill a few people (scare tactic) then outlaw the hunting of them. THere – the gov. has us under more control –

  11. Hunter backlash begins over wolf plan adoption

    Unanimous adoption of a controversial wolf management plan by the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission has ignited a firestorm in the hunting community, with concerns over the future viability of big game herds combining with a sense that the commission has turned its backs on sportsmen and women who pay the tab for wildlife management.

    http://www.examiner.com/gun-rights-in-seattle/hunter-backlash-begins-over-wolf-plan-adoption

  12. I have been reviewing and studying wolves for years now, using all the information I can glean from many sources. I have been in the field with wolf biologists and hunt every year in the southern Bitterrot mountains with a camp set there every year. It will be a travesty to all states that are allowing wolves to be placed in any lands, public or private. The wolves are already there and visiting. Reading about wolves and communicating with L.D.Mech and others over a period of time (please Google LD Mech)has tought me much about wolf recovery efforts.
    We are entering into a phase of American history where we are struggling to stay a strong nation.
    To spend money to appease the “green groups” who have been sueing the people of the united states and making BILLIONS of dollars from the Endangered Species Act is another facet of deficit spending that is destroying the country. Wolves have been recorded to move hundreds of miles looking for new territories. This is what we should let happen in a natural setting, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Wyoming has had it right all along. Shoot wolves on sight, Idaho has just launched a effort to use helicopters to exterminate wolves as they have not been able to effectively reduce their numbers in rough terrain. Montana has not reached anything even near their quota for wolf hunts due to the inability to effectively find wolves. It is a very slow learning curve for hunters and the state is now trying to teach hunting techniques to aid wolf hunters. They have already extended the Montana wolf hunts twice this year because we have not met quota’s on a population we cannot yet define.
    Myself, I do have a wolf tag, but due to limited time and resources I probably will not harvest a wolf this year. Many hunters face the same limitations.
    I would encourage everyone involved as a hunter, stockman, outdoorsman and wolf advocate to put efforts into stopping the reintroduction anywhere else in the United States and give Mother Nature time to educate us. By placing the wolves ourselves, we are trying to outguess nature and are placing many animals in the ecosystem in harms way.
    Learn from what is already going on, rather than promoting imbalance by continueing this nonsence promoted by greedy environmental groups that are not promoting balance, but rather litigation to produce profit. Don’t believe it? Then follow the footsteps I have taken already, see it for yourself

    1. Thanks, all, for the comments.

      I would point out that wolves are NOT being directly reintroduced into Washington. There are no plans to capture wolves outside the state and release them back into Washington, like what happened in Central Idaho and Yellowstone in the mid-1990s.

      That said, it’s hard to argue that the wolves in Washington’s Blue Mountains are not a result of that reintroduction. But it’s most likely that the state’s confirmed packs are the result of wolves wandering in from Northwest Montana/Northern Idaho and southern BC populations.

      AW
      NWS

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