While Washington hunters’ and anglers’ kids were out trick-or-treating last night, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind was on TVW’s Inside Olympia, speaking on agency hot-button items of the day — if not the past decade.
Budget; wolves; salmon production, fishing seasons and orca recovery; sea lion management; and Columbia gillnetting.
Given Governor Jay Inslee’s recent letter to WDFW on wolves and its response, and a court hearing today with two environmental groups, host Austin Jenkins dedicated a full third of his near-hour-long show to the subject of Canis lupus in Washington.
Watching it this morning, my ears perked up when the subject of wolf hunting came up for several minutes.
“It’s a legitimate hunting activity.”
–WDFW Director Kelly Susewind
That topic is among the boxes, per se, folks can check off as an important one to them in the agency’s extended scoping survey as it begins planning for postrecovery wolf management.
In the interest of sharing with fellow hunters where WDFW’s at with the issue, here’s how the conversation went down, based on a corrected transcript:
Austin Jenkins: In a kind of post-protected status environment, can you imagine a management plan that allows for the hunting of wolves?
Kelly Susewind: It’s certainly on the table. It’s a controversial issue. I don’t know if we’ll get there or not — that will be the outcome of our processes — but it certainly needs to be on the table. It’s been an activity that occurs in other states when they’ve reached the recovery stage.
AJ: And why does it need to be on the table? Is that a management question?
KS: Well, I guess it doesn’t have to be. To me it’s a process question, it’s good governance. We’re going into this with an open mind; we have no preconceived notions of what a postdelisting plan looks like. And so I want virtually everything on the table. Let’s give it a thorough vetting with a broad public base. Let’s understand where the citizens want to be on this issue.
We could manage with or without a hunting season. I think as you get the bigger numbers, there’s just the realities of what it’s going to take to manage, and we have to manage: It’s an apex predator. It’s wonderful that we’re getting to recovery; we have to manage in a way where they can coexist with humans.
AJ: I think people can, and even if somebody who doesn’t hunt themselves might, understand hunting fowl, they might understand hunting deer and elk, because clearly when you hunt those animals you’re getting meat and you can eat them and there’s sort of this reason for, you know, getting your own food source. Hunting wolves doesn’t necessarily have that correlation, so what would be the purpose for hunting wolves other than somebody doesn’t like them and wants a tag to go kill them, or the sport of it, or perhaps because it’s a way to augment population control to the extent the agency wants and needs to do that?
KS: I would hope it would be the latter two. We don’t want folks out there killing wolves because they don’t like wolves. It’s a legitimate hunting activity. It’s not for protein, as you said, but hopefully — not hopefully, it has to be if we allow it — it has to be done as a part of management control, population control.
From that perspective, there are a lot of folks out there who would like to enjoy going out and pursuing. It would be a challenge, to say the least. To do this from the ground in the way that we hunt in this state would be a challenge for folks. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, we again no preconceived notion of how that turns out.
Certainly there’s less of an appetite for hunting that’s not associated with food, with gathering protein, so it’s tougher in general. Then you bring in the passion people have for wolves. We’re a long ways from getting to a hunting season, I think.
Since they were delisted in the early years of this decade wolves have been hunted in northeastern Washington by the Colville and Spokane Tribes, both on and off reservation, and now year-round with no limit on how many can be taken.
State managers have never worried that tribal hunting seasons would be a conservation concern either in that well-wolfed corner of Washington, or beyond.
Then again, there’s not much they — or even the fiercest of pro-wolfers — can do about it, as the tribes are sovereign nations and can manage wildlife how they want.
As for whether state hunters will one day be able to pursue wolves, there’s a two-part answer to that.
The technical process — the road map to a hunt — is easy.
It needs to be part of the environmental impact statement that will be developed out of this fall’s scoping process. The Fish and Wildlife Commission has to approve the plan with that element, downlist the status of wolves from state endangered to game species as they meet the recovery goals, and then set regulations and seasons.
The more difficult part is that wolf hunts are a “magnitudes bigger issue” than wolf-livestock conflict, which itself is huge.
There will be titanic headwinds and icy waters to steer through.
One avenue may be mediation between the sides — hunters, wolf lovers and other interested instate parties — just like how the disparate interests on WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group came together to agree on nonlethal preventative work and lethal protocols for removing wolves that attack cattle, sheep and other domestic animals.
Yet even as the idea is now percolating, as it were, it may also be on that stove for quite some time.
“We’re a long ways from getting to a hunting season, I think.”
Meanwhile, the scoping period that will help shape the draft environmental impact statement for how to manage wolves postrecovery continues through 5 p.m., Nov. 15.
It would behoove us hunters to register our thoughts formally. The time it takes to leave yet another comment on a Facebook wolf post isn’t much longer than it takes to fill out the seven-field questionnaire.