With wolf populations in Washington possibly meeting statewide goals as early as 2020, wildlife managers reiterated their support for federal delisting of the species in the Cascades and west side of the state in a letter sent to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in mid-December.
And in another note sent to two powerful state legislators the next week, Department of Fish & Wildlife director Phil Anderson stated, “In summary, the state of Washington no longer needs federal oversight to recover and manage wolves.”
They are the latest statements of the agency’s position on taking over management of wolves from the Service, which last year proposed removing Canis lupus from ESA protections.
Both letters were posted online this week.
“I support their decision to support federal delisting,” said Rep. Brian Blake, a South Coast Democrat and hunter, and to whom as head of the House’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, the latter letter was addressed.
He said he believed that WDFW had sent him it to keep him informed on the issue; the other recipient was his counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Kirk Pearson, a North Cascades Republican who chairs the Natural Resources Committee.
While WDFW’s tack towards taking over wolf management has been clear for several years now, what with the development of the conservation plan, securing of a couple million dollars worth of legislative funding for biologists, hiring trappers and other wolf workers, and statements it and its citizen commission has adopted, last fall its public support for the proposal was questioned by another state lawmaker — one who missed his chance at grilling Anderson for the Wedge wolf operation in late summer 2012 by a shift in the Legislature last winter.
The ability to take out that pack, in federally delisted northern Stevens County, is one of the reasons why WDFW is supporting delisting, so it can manage wolves equally throughout Washington.
Pointing to nonlethal work and agreements with ranchers and saying that “signs of social tolerance for the species are visible,” Anderson argued to USFWS Director Dan Ashe:
…We are constrained in what we can do to mitigate similar conflicts in the western portion of our state. Federal protections there tie our hands. If a pattern of wolf depredation on livestock occurs in the western two-thirds of the state, the depredation situation will likely persist or worsen. Our inability to respond in a way would promote intolerance of wolves. The long-term impacts could be severe: wolves that learned to prey on livestock would disperse and establish new packs, passing on that learned behavior to their offspring. Local communities would be left to resort to their own measures to protect their interests. The trust in the abilities of our Department to recover and manage wolves would be undermined. (Italics are in the original.)
This past year was also a successful one for range riding in Northeast Washington.
Anderson’s letter was sent a few days before the close of the comment period on the fed’s delisting proposal.
The other sent to Blake and Pearson outlines the steps the agency has taken to take over management of wolves from the federal government, and Anderson writes, “We have strong legal protections, a robust Plan, and a strong commitment to successfully recover a healthy and sustainable wolf population in balance with one of the highest human densities in the West.”
Biologists have been scouring the state for the USFWS-required year-end population update, and it’s likely that the number of packs and successful breeding pairs will increase from 2012’s nine packs, five sets of breeders and 51 known wolves.
In the letter to Ashe, Anderson says that Washington is quickly developing a stable wolf population with multiple age classes.
“Given the current growth rate, we can anticipate Washington’s wolves reaching the planned recovery objectives within as few as seven years,” he wrote last month.
At least one local wolf advocacy group has opposed delisting on a regionwide basis because states to the south of Washington aren’t as close to British Columbia, Idaho and Montana source populations as the Evergreen State is.
Even without federal protections, wolves would remain on the state ESA list until recovery.