News readers introducing a KING5 report last night said that a WDFW spokesman’s on-the-federal-record support for delisting of wolves across Washington at a public hearing in late September “caught many by surprise” and that “opponents are already howling,” but that ignores clear signals the agency and its overseers have been giving over the last two years.
In late 2011, after over four years of work, numerous hearings and tens of thousands of comments, the Fish & Wildlife Commission approved a management and recovery plan that ultimately is a guideline for getting the species to delisting from state ESA protections;
In early 2012, in a letter to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe, WDFW signaled its opposition to the creation of a new federal wolf recovery area in the western two-thirds of Washington and said it doesn’t buy advocates’ arguments that wolves there will be any different from those in the rest of the state and Northern Rockies;
In an April 2012 position statement, under the section “Secure Management Authority for the State,” the commission said “It is vital that the Department act in a manner that secures and maintains authority for Washington State to manage wolves;”
And this June, after legislators and the governor provided $1.4 million to $1.6 million in funding for wolf work over the next two years, a top state wolf manager argued WDFW is well positioned to take over management responsibilities for the species should the Service’s delisting proposal be approved.
Statewide management means that the ranchers and managers west of Highways 97, 17 and 395 have the same tools as those east of the highways, where wolves were delisted last year.
But WDFW Assistant Director Nate Pamplin’s statements on Sept. 30 to those effects in the other Washington is being attacked.
“Our own Department of Fish & Wildlife is back in Washington DC lobbying for the delisting of the wolf in Washington state,” Sen. Kevin Ranker, the San Juan Islands Democrat and former chair of the upper chamber’s Natural Resources committee told the station’s wolf-beat reporter, Gary Chittim.
Ranker has become the champion of Washington’s wolf advocates, threatening to hold WDFW’s collective feet to the fire after the removal of the livestock-gnawing Wedge Pack last summer.
Chittim further reports:
“Ranker said he can find no evidence WDFW tried to gather public input before sending a manager to a hearing in Washington D.C. to formally support the delisting.”
Ranker points to a recent poll, presumably a September 2013 Defenders of Wildlife one, that says most folks in the state support wolves, and worries that WDFW’s statement in favor of removal from the Endangered Species Act will be taken as representative of Washington as a whole by USFWS.
The agency’s director, Phil Anderson, told Chittim that Pamplin’s remarks were a policy statement of WDFW only, and that wolves are just as safe under state management as they are under federal authority.
The meat of Pamplin’s testimony is this:
Washington’s wolf population is not a closed population in terms of immigration and emigration. Wolves are dispersing into Washington from all bordering jurisdictions; with 117 packs in Idaho, 6 packs in Oregon, and an estimated 8,500 wolves in British Columbia. The importance of this is that it demonstrates that there is a tremendous source population surrounding Washington for a supply of dispersing wolves to continue to colonize Washington. We have documented multiple long-distance dispersal events where the distance of the dispersal is equivalent to the distance between major patches of wolf habitat in eastern and western Washington. This demonstrates that ecologically, wolves in Washington have the dispersal ability to colonize any suitable habitats in Washington.
We have a rapidly growing and expanding wolf population. Comparing survey results from December 2011 to December 2012, the number of confirmed packs increased from 5 to 9 and the minimum number of wolves observed increased from 35 to 51. The importance of this is that it demonstrates Washington’s wolf population is growing and expanding at a rate parallel to that documented in the Northern Rocky Mountain states.
We are committed to managing for a sustainable wolf population in Washington. We have extensive, demonstrable experience successfully managing other large carnivores. WDFW would continue to coordinate with USFWS in post-delisting monitoring and reporting.
In conclusion, in consideration of these policy and biological factors, WDFW supports delisting.
In light of recent wolf shootings inside and outside of the delisted area in Washington, wolf advocates have justified concerns about how the species is faring here. But at the same time, they want the western two-thirds of the state to be a recovery area for wolves from British Columbia’s coast, an unlikely-to-occur scenario given the large numbers of wolves in Interior BC, the Northern Rockies and Oregon and how widely the species disperses.
As for wolf polls, well, there are so many out there that there’s a little something for everyone. WDFW’s final statewide wolf management and recovery plan summarized four of them thusly:
• “The large majority of Washington residents (75%) support allowing wolves to recover in Washington; meanwhile, 17% oppose it.
“A cross tabulation found that those who live in urban and suburban areas are more likely to support wolf recovery; while those residing in small city/town or rural areas are more likely to oppose. Note that those living on ranches or farms are the most likely to strongly oppose.
• “When the stipulation is put on wolf recovery that it could result in localized declines in elk and deer populations, support declines slightly: 61% support wolf recovery if it will result in some localized declines in elk and deer populations, and 28% oppose.
• “Most Washington residents (61%) support some level of lethal wolf control to protect at risk livestock; however, 31% oppose. Additionally, a majority of residents (56%) support having the state pay compensation out of the General Fund to ranchers who have documented losses to livestock from wolves, but 35% oppose.
• “When asked how worried, while recreating outdoors, they would be about wolves, respondents most commonly say that they would not be worried at all (39%), and 26% would be only a little worried; in sum, 65% would be only a little worried or not worried at all. On the other hand, 33% would be very or moderately worried, with 11% very worried.
• “In a question tangentially related to wolf management, the survey found that wildlife viewing specifically of wild wolves would appear to be popular, as 54% of residents say that they would travel to see or hear wild wolves in Washington. (Note that 2% of respondents say that they would not need to travel, as they have wild wolves nearby already.)”
The second survey (Duda et al. 2008b), also conducted by Responsive Management, assessed hunter opinions and was conducted via telephone interviews with 931 Washington hunters 12 years old and older from December 2007 to February 2008. Interviewees in this study were exclusive from those contacted by Duda et al. (2008a). The survey asked three questions about wolves and related issues. Specific information on the survey and its findings can be found at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/pub.php?id=00433. The following summary of results is reprinted from the survey’s final report:
• “After being informed that wolves are highly likely to re-colonize Washington over the next 10 years, hunters were asked if they support or oppose having the Department manage wolves to be a self-sustaining population. Support exceeds opposition among every type of hunter except [those in a category combined for] sheep/moose/goat hunters.
• “Common reasons for supporting include that the hunter likes wolves/that all wildlife deserves a chance to flourish, that wolves should be managed and controlled anyway, or that wolves should be managed so that they do not overpopulate.
• “Common reasons for opposing include concerns about potential damage to livestock and/or game and wildlife, that the respondent does not want wolves in the area, or that wolves are not manageable.”
The third survey (Dietsch et al. 2011) was conducted by Colorado State University in collaboration with WDFW and examined overall public opinion on different wildlife management issues based questions about wolves and related issues. Specific information on the survey and its findings can be found at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/pub.php?id=01190. The following summary of results is reprinted from the survey’s final report:
• “Washington residents generally found natural recolonization of the state by wolves to be acceptable (74.5%).
• “Residents also supported translocation of wolves by WDFW from one area in Washington where they have reached a certain population size to another area in the state to reestablish new wolf populations (73.7%).
• “There was also a high level of support among residents for wolf control measures. Specifically, residents were accepting of lethal removal of wolves that have caused loss of livestock (65.9%), limiting the number of wolves in certain areas if they are contributing to localized declines in deer or elk (69.8%), and a limited hunting season on wolves once they have exceeded WDFW recovery goals (63.5%).
• “Residents were less accepting of landowner compensation schemes for wolf-related livestock losses (44.8%), but were slightly more accepting of these strategies if the funds for compensation came from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses (46.1%) rather than from state tax dollars (40.3%).
• “Current hunters were highly supportive of limiting wolf numbers, both in terms of lethal removal of damage-causing animals and recreational hunting…….Non-hunters were significantly more supportive of wolf recolonization than were past or current hunters.”
The fourth survey (Callahan 2011) was conducted as part of a Master’s thesis focused entirely on public opinion about wolves and wolf management in Washington. The survey asked Washington residents 51 questions pertaining to wolves in March 2009, with results based on 325 mail-in responses. The following summary of results comes from a preliminary report on the study’s findings:
• More Washington residents are in favor of having wolves in Washington (48.3% strongly or somewhat approved) than opposed to having them (18.1% strongly or somewhat disapproved).
• Among respondents living in western Washington (i.e., west of the Cascade crest), most preferred a situation in which wolves become reestablished in many, most, or all western Washington counties (59.0%) vs. in no or few western Washington counties (38.8%). Among respondents living in eastern Washington (i.e., east of the Cascade crest), most preferred a situation in which wolves become reestablished in many, most, or all eastern Washington counties (68.4%) vs. in no or few eastern Washington counties (27.8%).
• Most Washington residents thought that conservation groups and ranchers should work together to develop proactive and non-lethal methods for managing wolves (55.7% strongly or somewhat favored this vs. 13.6% who strongly or somewhat opposed this).
• Most Washington residents thought that the threat of a wolf hurting or killing a person is so low that it should not be an important factor in determining the total number of wolves allowed to live in the state (52.0% strongly or somewhat favored this vs. 16.9% who strongly or somewhat opposed this).
• Most Washington residents thought that wolf populations provide ecological benefits (51.1% strongly or somewhat favored this vs. 15.7% who strongly or somewhat opposed this).
• More Washington residents thought that the most effective method for managing wolves is to educate the public about how to live with wolves (48.3% strongly or somewhat favored this vs. 19.4% who strongly or somewhat opposed this).
• More Washington residents thought that the state’s wolf population should not be allowed to impact deer and elk numbers to the point that hunting of these species becomes more restricted (38.5% strongly or somewhat agreed with this vs. 25.2% who strongly or somewhat disagreed with this).
• Somewhat more Washington residents believed that wolves should be managed by hunting (36.9% strongly or somewhat favored this), as is done with cougars and bears, than not (29.2% strongly or somewhat opposed this).
• Somewhat more Washington residents opposed adjusting hunting limits to allow for more prey for wolves (32.3% strongly or somewhat opposed this) than supported this (25.2% strongly or somewhat favored this).
• Washington residents were split on whether wolves should be trapped and relocated to suitable regions of Washington where natural migration is difficult or impossible (31.4% strongly or somewhat favored this vs. 32.0% who strongly or somewhat opposed this).
• Most Washington residents favored using state tax funds to manage wolves for the following purposes: 1) to preserve wolves as a wildlife species (56.9% strongly or somewhat supported this vs. 15.1% who strongly or somewhat opposed this), 2) to keep wolves away from residential areas (54.1% strongly or somewhat supported this vs. 10.5% who strongly or somewhat opposed this), and 3) to encourage collaboration between conservation groups and ranchers to develop, use, and monitor proactive non-lethal wolf management tools (50.5% strongly or somewhat supported this vs. 17.2% who strongly or somewhat opposed this).
• Most Washington residents supported having private conservation organizations help fund implementation of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (56.3% of respondents strongly or somewhat supported this vs. 10.7% who strongly or somewhat opposed this).
There was lower support or opposition for the use of fees or tax dollars from the following sources for this purpose: 1) increased hunting and fishing license fees (39.1% supported this vs. 30.5% who opposed it), 2) the federal government (36.4% supported this vs. 25.0% who opposed it), 3) a state wildlife tax (32.3% supported this vs. 33.8% who opposed it), and 4) Washington’s general fund (27.4% supported this vs. 36.3% who opposed it).