Tag Archives: gray wolves

Lower 48 Gray Wolf Delisting Proposal Going Out For Comment

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to delist gray wolves in the rest of the Lower 48 will go out for comment tomorrow when it is officially posted on the Federal Register.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UW)

“While wolves in the gray wolf entity currently occupy only a portion of wolf historical range, the best available information indicates that the gray wolf entity is recovered and is not now, nor likely in the foreseeable future, to be negatively affected by past, current, and potential future threats such that the entity is in danger of extinction,” reads a portion of the 158-page document now available for previewing.

USFWS says that species don’t have to be recovered throughout their former range — essentially impossible with all the development since their large-scale extirpation — to be delisted from the Endangered Species Act, but that it would continue to monitor populations for five years, like it did with the Northern Rockies wolves and which have continued to thrive under state management.

The agency says that delisting will let it focus on species that still need help.

“Every species kept on the Endangered Species List beyond its point of recovery takes valuable resources away from those species still in need of the act’s protections,” USFWS said in a press release officially announcing the proposal.

Word first came out last week from Department of Interior Acting Secretary David Bernhardt that it was pending.

There are now more than 6,000 wolves in the Lower 48, primarily in the Northern Rockies and Western Great Lakes, but those populations are spreading out.

Just last week it became clear that there was likely a wolf or wolves within miles of the Pacific in Southern Oregon after state managers there reported one was probably to blame for a large-scale sheep depredation near Cape Blanco.

Gray wolves were delisted in Idaho, Montana and the eastern thirds of Oregon and Washington in 2011. This new proposal would extend that the western two-thirds of both states and elsewhere, if it is approved. A similar bid in 2013 was challenged in court and the effort was derailed, but quietly began again last June.

“Our deepest gratitude goes to all our conservation partners in this victory, particularly the states and tribes who are committed to wolf conservation and will continue this legacy forward,” said USFWS Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson in the press release.

ODFW and WDFW last week reiterated that they’re ready to take over management of gray wolves across their respective states. It would level the playing field, per se, in dealing with depredations, but would not mean an immediate free-fire zone as the species would remain under state protections for the time being.

Publication on the Federal Register starts a 60-day comment period.

Feds To Propose Delisting Gray Wolves In Rest Of WA, OR, Lower 48

Editor’s note: Updated 12:15 p.m. March 7, 2019, with comments from WDFW.

Federal wildlife overseers are proposing to delist gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon and elsewhere across the Lower 48.

A WDFW IMAGE SHOWS A TEANAWAY PACK MEMBER IN CENTRAL WASHINGTON SHORTLY AFTER COMING TO AND WEARING A TELEMETRY COLLAR. (WDFW)

The news was reported by the Associated Press this morning.

“Today, Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon propose a rule to delist the gray wolf in the Lower 48 states and return management of the species back to the states and tribes,” confirmed a USFWS spokesperson.

Bernhardt is in Denver for the 84th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference.

The official termed the recovery of gray wolves — which began with the formation of packs in Northwest Montana in the 1980s and then federal reintroductions in Central Idaho and Yellowstone in the 1990s — “one of our nation’s great conservation successes, with the wolf joining other cherished species, such as the bald eagle, that have been brought back from the brink with the help of the (Endangered Species Act).”

Yes, a success, but also a flashpoint, and surely this latest attempt will lead to more court challenges, like those that derailed 2013’s proposal.

That one followed on 2011’s successful delisting in the eastern two-thirds of Washington and Oregon, as well as all of Idaho and Montana.


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Last June, federal officials again began reviewing the status of wolves outside the Northern Rockies recovery zone, with the goal of putting it out for public comment by the end of 2018.

That didn’t quite happen, but now it appears that it has.

“Once the proposed rule has published in the Federal Register, the public will have an opportunity to comment,” the USFWS spokesperson said via email.

If it goes through, among the notable impacts would be that WDFW and ODFW would have a more level playing field for dealing with wolf depredations. They can lethally remove members of livestock-attacking packs in far Eastern Washington and Oregon, but west of a line that snakes across both regions they can’t.

Still, it wouldn’t be an immediate free-fire zone, as both states stress nonlethal conflict avoidance tactics in trying to prevent depredations in the first place.

 “We haven’t gotten any official confirmation, and it’s likely this would be a drawn-out process, but if protections were lifted all of Oregon’s wolves would fall under the state management plan,” ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy told Salem Statesman-Journal outdoor reporter Zach Urness. “We’re ready to handle this if the federal rules are lifted.”

WDFW’s wolf policy lead Donny Martorello echoed that sentiment.

“We have adequate protections for wolves in this state,” he said.

The agency has felt that way for several years, in fact, encouraging USFWS to delist wolves in the rest of Washington and asking a state US House lawmaker to spur the feds as well.

“The best available science shows that the gray wolf has successfully recovered from the danger of extinction and no longer requires federal protection,” said that Congressman, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Yakima Valley) in a press release. “We can see in Washington state that the wolf population is growing quickly while being effectively managed by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife in the eastern third of the state. I applaud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s for moving forward with a proposal to delist the wolf in the lower 48 states in order to return management to the states.”

Despite the fears of wolf advocates and highly litigious organizations, wolf populations have grown best largely in the state-managed areas.

“We’re reviewing the delisting proposal from USFWS and we empathize with concerns from colleagues in states such as California and Colorado where wolves have not yet recovered,” said Chase Gunnell, spokesman for Seattle’s Conservation Northwest. “However, given the quality of Washington’s Wolf Plan and investments in collaborative wolf management work here, we do not expect federal delisting to have a significant impact on wolves in our state. Wolf recovery is progressing well in Washington and our wolves will remain a state endangered species until state recovery goals are met.”

Martorello said that the speed at which a federal delisting proposal would likely move would “synch” with WDFW’s own look at how well the species is doing.

Today’s news comes as the state has also begun its own status review of gray wolves, which are state-listed as endangered.

“The department will review all relevant data pertaining to the population status and factors affecting existence of wolves in Washington. Based on the information collected and reviewed, the department will make recommendations to maintain the species current listing status as endangered or reclassify species to sensitive or threatened or other status,” an agency statement says.

A bill in the state legislature also prompts WDFW to wrap up the review by the end of December, though it was amended to remove the possibility of considering delisting in the eastern third of the state as well as made “null and void” if funding for the work wasn’t included in the budget.

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part II

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and below are what we reported during the next four, June through September.

JUNE

One of the region’s biggest fish of the year was hooked in late spring in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, a 254- to 265-pound halibut. It was fought and caught by Tom Hellinger with help from son Caleb in late May, but word didn’t begin to hit the mainstream until early June. Though no official measurement was recorded, the 61/2-foot-long flattie was within 25 to 35 pounds of the Washington state record. “I was just really thankful and grateful,” Hellinger told us. “You don’t really realize how rare that is. Big fish are rare. To be an hour from my home and catch something like that is special.” His fish had a 42-pound head, and produced 140 pounds of filets and 1.5 pounds of coveted cheek meat.

ALEISHA, TOM AND CALEB HELLINGER AND LUKE REID POSE WITH TOM’S EASTERN STRAITS HALIBUT. (TOM HELLINGER)

Speaking of big fish, June 21 proved to be a very active day for state records in Washington, where not only was a new high mark set for redbanded rockfish — John Sly’s 7.54-pounder caught off Westport — but arrowtooth flounder — Richard Hale’s 5.93-pounder, landed out of Neah Bay. As 2018 came to a close, there were a total of eight new state record fish caught this year in the Northwest, twice as many as 2017, with seven coming from Washington and nearly all of those caught in the Pacific — three off Westport alone.

ISABELLA TOLEN AND HER 41-POUND TOPE SHARK, THE FIRST EVER SUBMITTED AS A WASHINGTON STATE RECORD. (VIA WDFW)

While mountain goats are meant to hang out in the mountains, federal wildlife managers issued a final record of decision that most of the progeny of those that were introduced by hunting groups in the Olympics in the late 1920s would be captured and taken to the North Cascades, while those that proved too hard to catch would be shot by, among others, “skilled public volunteers.” The two-week-long joint NPS-USFS-WDFW-tribal operation ultimately moved 68 nannies and 30 billies to the other side of Puget Sound, with six kids taken to Northwest Trek and 11 others either dying in the process or deemed “unfit for translocation.” Crews will return to the Olympics in 2019 for another round of removals.

THREE MOUNTAIN GOATS ARRIVE BY HELICOPTER AT A RENDEZVOUS POINT DURING SEPTEMBER’S TWO-WEEK-LONG CAPTURE AND TRANSLOCATION OPERATION. (NPS)

In an “anti-climactic” move, the Supreme Court left a lower court ruling stand that the state of Washington must continue to fix fish passage barriers. While the 4-4 decision was billed as a win for Western Washington treaty tribes, it also saw some sport angler interests side with native fishermen, a turnaround from the Boldt era. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Association of Northwest Steelheaders, among others, filed a friends of the court brief that stated, “With salmon populations hovering at such precariously low levels, the significant increase of spawning and rearing habitat that will result from removal of the state’s barrier culverts would be a lifeline for salmon and fishing families alike.”

There’s a lot of grim news out there about Puget Sound these days — drugged-up mussels and Chinook, starving orcas, too much shoreline armoring, etc., etc. — but spring aerial photos from the state Department of Natural Resources revealed some good: the striking return of anchovy to the waters of the Whulge in recent years. WDFW biologist James Losee said it was part of some “exciting things” happening here from “a prey resource point of view.” In May, the Northwest Treaty Tribes blogged that an anchovy population boom in 2015 might have helped more Nisqually steelhead smolts sneak past all the harbor seals.

A SCREENSHOT FROM A DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY PDF SHOWS SCHOOLS OF BAITFISH OFF THE PURDY SPIT WEST OF TACOMA. (DOE)

Half a decade to the month after first proposing to declare gray wolves recovered across the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon as well as elsewhere outside the Northern Rockies in the Lower 48 — a process subsequently derailed through lawsuits — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly put out word it had begun “reviewing the status of the species” again. The initial hope was to get a delisting proposal onto the Federal Register by the end of the year, but that did not occur and so the long, slow process will continue into 2019.

After narrowing the director candidate field of 19 to seven and then three, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously chose the Department of Ecology’s Kelly Susewind as the new WDFW chief head honcho. A lifelong hunter and lapsed fisherman, Susewind was hailed as a good choice by members of the sporting world, with Rep. Brian Blake of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and fellow Grays Harbor resident calling him “a force for positive change at DFW.” Susewind took the reins Aug. 1 and had to immediately deal with multiple wolf depredations in the state’s northeast corner.

WDFW’S DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND AT HIS NEW DESK. (WDFW)

For years I’ve reported on the weird wanderings of Northwest wildlife, and June provided two more bizarre examples — a wolverine that visited a very, very non-wolverinelike part of King County in late spring, the woods just outside the lowlands town of Snoqualmie before being found dead along I-90 20 road miles away; and a pair of bull elk that swam over to Orcas Island and gave Uncle John Willis quite a start — “Well, this morning I planned on going to town, but chose not to do that. I looked out my window at my sister’s house and here are two bull elk eating leaves off of a filbert tree in front of her house,” he told us. “I was not quite ready to see two elk this morning.”

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATIONS OF WHERE THE WOLVERINE TURNED UP ON A TRAIL CAM AND WHERE THE SAME ONE IS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN STRUCK ON I-90. (WDFW)

Under pressure from federal overseers who want the state to end production of Skamania steelhead in Puget Sound streams, WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes came up with a plan to replace the strain in the Skykomish River with Tolt summers instead. The whole thing could take years to get approved let alone implement, but it’s also a testament to the lengths officials are willing to go these days for Puget Sound’s last consumptive steelhead opportunity and appears to be progressing. Later in the year and in Oregon, a study found “little evidence to suggest a negative effect of hatchery [Skamania] summer steelhead abundance on [wild] winter steelhead productivity.”

THE SKYKOMISH RIVER’S SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD LIKE THIS ONE CAUGHT ON A RAINY DAY BY WINSTON McCLANAHAN WOULD BE REPLACED WITH TOLT RIVER SUMMERS UNDER AN AMBITIOUS PLAN WDFW AND THE TULALIP TRIBES HATCHED TO SAVE THE POPULAR FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

JULY

In a year of generally poor salmon returns to the Columbia, sockeye came back stronger than expected and that allowed for an unexpected opener on the upper river. And the shad run topped more than 6 million, thoroughly stomping the old high mark of 5.35 million.

SHAD SWIM THROUGH THE FISH LADDER AT BONNEVILLE DAM IN 2017. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

Washington steelheaders again have access to a coveted section of the middle Wynoochee with the opening of a new put-in just below the 7400 Line bridge, thanks to a five-year agreement between WDFW and Green Diamond Resource Company, which owns the land. The river is one of the most productive on the Westside, with over 1,200 winters and nearly 2,100 summers kept during the 2016-17 season, and it’s known for good fishing for wild fish too. But the agreement does come with a caveat, that “access is contingent on good citizenship of those who visit,” according to WDFW.

A MAP PUT TOGETHER BY WDFW SHOWS THE 7400 LINE ACCESS IN THE WYNOOCHEE VALLEY. (WDFW)

July marked the 10-year anniversary of when it became abundantly clear that wolves weren’t just moving through Oregon and Washington anymore, they were settling down and having families. In the subsequent years and along with all the accompanying angst, livestock depredations and poachings, this month also saw an unusual incident in North-central Washington, where a Forest Service stream surveyor was forced to twice climb a tree when she came across the rendezvous site of the very protective Loup Loup Pack. After initial WDFW hesitation about sending in a state helicopter, a DNR bird was dispatched to extract the woman. She was debriefed by a game warden whose after-action report procured through a public records request stated that “(The woman) at no time stated that she feared for her life, but did state that she was afraid.”

DNR CREW MEMBERS ON THE RESCUE MISSION INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE (HELICOPTER MANAGER), MATTHEW HARRIS (CREW), JARED HESS (CREW) AND DEVIN GOOCH (PILOT). PHOTO/DNR

WDFW began unveiling a new $67 million proposal to fill a large budget gap and enhance fishing and hunting opportunities. It would raise license fees but also puts the onus on the General Fund for three-quarters of the money. The latter is a fundamental shift from the agency’s previous increase pitch that leaned entirely on sportsmen and failed in the state legislature, but also reflects the feeling that the public at large has a larger role to play in helping pay the bills for WDFW’s myriad missions, especially following cuts due to the Great Recession that have not been restored. The Fish and Wildlife Commission initially balked at a 12 to 15 percent fee hike and wanted 5 percent instead, but at the urging of numerous sporting members of the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group and others, went with 15. It’s now up to state lawmakers to approve.

A WDFW GRAPHIC SHOWS WHERE ITS BUDGET GOES, WITH FISH PRODUCTION AND MANAGING ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES ACCOUNTING FOR LARGE CHUNKS. (WDFW)

A new analysis by federal and state biologists showed the importance of Puget Sound Chinook for the inland sea’s orcas. Fall kings from the Nooksack to the Deschutes to the Elwha Rivers were ranked as the most important current feedstocks for the starving southern residents, followed by Lower Columbia and Strait of Georgia tribs. It led to more calls to increase hatchery production.

The summer of 2018 will long be remembered for what felt like months and months of choking smoke that settled in the Northwest, but the heat was notable too, with Maui-warm waters forming a thermal block at the mouth of the Yakima that forced WDFW to close the Columbia there to prevent overharvest of Cle Elum-bound sockeye, and low, 79-degree flows that led ODFW to reinstate 2015’s trib-mouth fishing closures on the lower Umpqua to protect returning steelhead and Chinook. A couple weeks later Oregon added hoot owl closures on the North Umpqua to protect wild summers that came in well below average.

A FLY ANGLER WORKS THE NORTH UMPQUA (BLM, FLICKR, CC 2.0)

Speaking of well below average and too-warm water, the Ballard Locks count for Lake Washington sockeye came in as the second lowest since 1972, but the grim news only got worse between there and the spawning grounds and hatchery on the Cedar. An “all-time low” entered the river, just 23 percent of how many went through the locks, likely victims of prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that are “becoming more prevalent/effective with the higher water temperatures” the salmon experience as they swim the relatively shallow Ship Canal to the lake. “Now just about everything that can go wrong is going wrong,” lamented longtime metro lake angler and sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, who earlier in the year had helped organize a meeting on how to save the fish and fishery.

RUB A DUB DUB! THREE MEN TROLL FOR SOCKEYE DURING THE 2006 LAKE WASHINGTON SEASON, WHICH YIELDED THE HIGHEST CATCH IN A DECADE BUT HAS ALSO BEEN THE ONLY FISHERY IN A DOZEN YEARS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Center for Biological Diversity got a Thurston County Superior Court to temporarily block WDFW from taking out one member of the Togo Pack for a string of cattle depredations, earning the out-of-state organization a strong rebuke from in-state wolf advocates as well as representatives of the hunting community on the Wolf Advisory Group, which helped craft the lethal removal protocols that CBD wants to derail. “Sadly it is all about cash flow,” said WAG member Dave Duncan. A judge ultimately denied CBD’s bid, sending relief — good for some, bitter for others — through Washington’s wolf world and greenlighting WDFW to kill the breeding male, though the group’s underlying beef will still have its day in court.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

Unlike the other end of the wildlife spectrum, sportsmen conservationists don’t often go to court, but hunters heralded a federal judge’s preliminary decision against a plan to build 137 miles of new offroad trails in a Central Oregon national forest. “We fought for elk, and won,” said Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, among several parties that filed a lawsuit to halt a U.S. Forest Service bid to put in the off-highway vehicle trails through critical habitat in the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville. They argued that the forest plan violated road density standards and didn’t adequately consider how it would affect calving and rutting elk.

With one of the worst returns of steelhead in dam counting history underway, state managers closed the Deschutes River coolwater plume to all fishing — even fall Chinook — then shut down steelhead retention on 300-plus miles of the Columbia and portions of the lower John Day, closed Drano Lake and Wind River at night, and dropped limits from three to one a day in the Snake watershed. It’s the second season in a row of such strong measures to ensure enough return for spawning needs.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH SHOWS THIS YEAR’S STEELHEAD RUN (RED LINE) AT BONNEVILLE DAM AS IT COMPARES TO LAST YEAR’S LOW RETURN (BLUE LINE) AND THE TEN-YEAR AVERAGE (BLACK LINE), A DECADE THAT SAW A RECORD 604,000 IN 2009. (FPC)

There were a number of large-scale poachings in 2018 — the three people who’d dug 37 times their daily limit of clams, for instance — but one of the most jaw dropping was the de facto commercial fishing operation a 74-year-old Kitsap County resident was running in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sekiu. When his 23-foot Maxxum was boarded, a state game warden and sheriff’s deputies found he had five more lines out than allowed, six barbed hooks and was in possession of eight more fish than permitted — including five off-limits wild kings and wild coho. The consensus was that this was not the guy’s first rodeo, given the complexity of fishing five commercial flasher-lure combos off bungees behind two downriggers. The boat, which was seized, is now the property of the state of Washington as its forfeiture was not contested, along with the gear, and the man has been charged by county prosecutors with 10 criminal violations.

WDFW OFFICER BRYAN DAVIDSON POSES WITH THE 23-FOOT MAXUM CABIN CRUISER, TRAILER, DOWNRIGGERS, FISHING ROD AND COMMERCIAL FLASHER-LURE COMBOS SEIZED FOLLOWING AN AT-SEA INSPECTION THAT TURNED UP EGREGIOUS FISHING RULES VIOLATIONS. (WDFW)

SEPTEMBER

Just a week after ODFW lifted the Deschutes plume fishing closure, allowing anglers to target fall Chinook there as the Columbia’s upriver bright run got going, Oregon and Washington salmon managers shut it and the rest of the big river from Buoy 10 to Pasco due to lower than expected returns and catches of Snake River wild kings that were subsequently in excess of ESA mortality allowances. Not long afterwards, the limit in the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia above Tri-Cities was also reduced to one. It all felt like a stunning U-turn from just three Septembers before, when managers had adjusted their fall Chinook forecast upwards to a staggering 1,095,900 — ultimately 1.3 million entered the river — to cap off three successive gargantuan runs. But on the bright side, late October’s King of the Reach live-capture derby brought in a record number of fish — over 1,200 — to fuel a hatchery broodstock program.

A HELPER AT KING OF THE REACH HOLDS A NICE WILD FALL CHINOOK BUCK BROUGHT IN BY ANGLERS DURING THE LIVE-CAPTURE DERBY. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

As if wolf issues weren’t hot enough in August, things really heated up in September when what was eventually named the Old Profanity Territory Pack killed one calf and injured three others. While WDFW built its case, key groups balked at going lethal though the protocol had been met because of the fast, repeated nature of depredations there. As more occurred, Director Susewind ultimately gave the go-ahead to kill a wolf or two to head off more livestock attacks, and after histrionics on Twitter, in superior court and at the steps of the state capital, the next week WDFW took out a juvenile.

US and Canadian salmon managers reached a new 10-year West Coast Salmon Treaty on Chinook harvest and conservation, one that must still be approved in the countries’ capitals but calls for reduced northern interceptions when runs are poor. Fisheries off Southeast Alaska would be cut as much as 7.5 percent from 2009-15 levels in those years, those off the west coast of Vancouver Island up to 12.5 percent, while Alaska salmon managers report that Washington and Oregon fisheries could see reductions from 5 to 15 percent.

In a great-news story, Boggan’s Oasis, the famed waystation on the Grande Ronde River that burned down in November 2017, reopened and was again serving up its famous milkshakes and more to hungry and thirsty steelheaders, travelers and others along lonely Highway 129 in extreme Southeast Washington. “The layout’s about the same, but it’s a bigger building,” said coproprietor Bill Vail, who added that he and wife Farrel were “happy to start the next chapter in our lives.”

(BOGGAN’S OASIS)

With a win-win habitat project mostly wrapped up, Oregon’s Coquille Wildlife Area reopened in time for the start of fall waterfowl seasons. Restoration of the Winter Lake Tract will provide young Endangered Species Act-listed coho salmon with 8 miles of winding tidal channels and will also help local cattle ranchers stay in business. “The tide gates, working with reconnected channels and new habitat will provide the best of both worlds,” said the National Marine Fisheries Service, which stated that 95 percent of the Coquille’s best salmon habitat has been lost since settlement.

AN AERIAL IMAGE SHOWS NEW CHANNELS FOR FISH HABITAT CREATED AT WINTER LAKE, PART OF THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE’S COQUILLE VALLEY WILDLIFE AREA. (CBI CONTRACTING VIA NMFS)

And in what certainly was the Northwest poaching case with the highest fine, Hoon Namkoong of Orient Seafood Production of Fife was sentenced to pay Washington and Westside tribes $1.5 million in restitution for buying and selling 250,000 pounds of sea cucumbers illegally harvested by tribal and nontribal divers in Puget Sound in recent years. The activities came at a time that concerned fishery managers were lowering quotas for legal harvesters due to declining numbers of the echinoderm, but the illegal picking was actually increasing. “It is no wonder, then, that we have failed to see signs of recovery as a result of the work of sea cucumber managers and the sacrifices of the lawfully compliant harvesters,” said a WDFW manager in presentencing documents. Namkoong was also sentenced to two years in prison.

Editor’s note: OK, this was supposed to be just a two-part YIR, but I gotta catch my breath now so I can try to put together the events of October, November and December in a couple days.

Eastside Reps’ Wolf Bill OKed By US House Committee

A bill federally delisting gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon as well as elsewhere in the Lower 48 has been approved by a Congressional committee.

A WOLF NEAR WENATCHEE TAKES A LOOK AT A SHERIFF’S DEPUTY. (CHELAN COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE)

The Manage Our Wolves Act received a 19-15 vote before the House Natural Resources Committee during markup yesterday.

The legislation is cosponsored by two Eastern Washington Republicans, Dan Newhouse of the Yakima Valley and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of the Spokane area, and Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy.

“The best-available science used by the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that the gray wolf has recovered and is no longer endangered,” said Newhouse in a statement.

He’s previously introduced wolf bills as WDFW has been encouraging him to push the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete its delisting of the species.

In a midspring letter to the lawmaker, the state agency’s Acting Director Joe Stohr wrote that “(to) ensure ongoing success in wolf recovery, the federal listing needs to keep pace with the on-the ground (sic) recovery status and allow the state to fully implement its management plan.”

Most Washington wolves are in the state’s northeast corner, but at least three packs run west of the delisting line, Highways 97, 17 and 395.

The bifurcated status of wolves in the state means that “the only means available for the USFWS to address wolf-livestock conflicts in the geographic area under the federal endangered designation is for the USFWS to attempt to relocated livestock-killing wolves,” Stohr wrote.

In midsummer, the Teanaway Pack, which runs in the still federally listed portion of Central Washington, injured a calf and an adult sheep, killed an ewe and was probably responsible for a missing lamb.

Gray wolves were proposed for delisting by the Obama Administration in 2013, but progress stalled, and then came a Humane Society of the United States court case addressing Canis lupus in the western Great Lakes that blocked USFWS from moving ahead on its full proposal.

There was little movement on that front until in June USFWS said it was again assessing wolf populations and, “(if) appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year.”

It would then undergo public review.

Newhouse’s and McMorris Rodgers’ bill would preclude a delisting from judicial review. It needs to pass the full House and Senate and be signed into law.

Both representatives are up for reelection this fall, with Newhouse likely to retain his seat but McMorris Rodgers in a tighter race, if Fivethirtyeight’s forecast is any indication.

USFWS Reviewing Status Of Still-listed Lower 48 Gray Wolves

It’s not just North Cascades grizzly reintroduction that federal wildlife overseers have begun working on again this year. They’re also putting in time on gray wolf delisting for the western Northwest and elsewhere, it appears.

A MEMBER OF CENTRAL WASHINGTON’S TEANAWAY PACK, WHICH ROAMS THE PART OF THE STATE WHERE WOLVES ARE STILL FEDERALLY LISTED, STANDS IN A FOREST. (BEN MALETZKE, WDFW)

Half a decade to the month after first proposing to declare wolves recovered across the rest of the contiguous United States, a process subsequently derailed through lawsuits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “has begun reviewing the status of the species.”

That’s according to a brief two-paragraph statement emailed to Northwest Sportsman magazine Thursday afternoon by a spokesperson.

“Working closely with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, we will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the Lower 48 states using the best available scientific information,” it continues. “If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment.”

ODFW’S LATEST WOLF PACK MAP DOESN’T SHOW THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN THE FEDERALLY DELISTED AND STILL-LISTED AREAS OF OREGON, BUT IT INCLUDES MUCH OF THE EASTERN THIRD OF THE STATE. THE RED LINE  (ODFW)

That could level the playing field, per se, in Washington and Oregon, where wildlife managers and livestock producers operate by different sets of rules depending on which side of a series of highways they’re on.

In spring 2011, Congress delisted wolves in each state’s eastern third — as well as all of Montana and Idaho and a portion of Utah — leaving management there up to WDFW and ODFW.

Meanwhile, federal protections continued in their western two-thirds, where lethal removal is not in the toolbox to deal with chronic depredations.

“Incompatibility between the Washington state management plan and the federal management plan creates a bureaucratic nightmare that leaves communities in Eastern Washington unable to defend themselves against increasing wolf attacks and livestock depredations,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Spokane) wrote to Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in a letter earlier this week calling on his agency to look at delisting wolves.

Regardless of the ranch’s or grazing allotment’s location, both states stress preventative measures to head off cattle and sheep conflicts.

WDFW’S LATEST PACK MAP SHOWS THE DEMARCATION BETWEEN WHERE WOLVES ARE MANAGED BY THE STATE AND UNDER FEDERAL PROTECTIONS, THE BLACK LINE RUNNING NORTH-SOUTH THROUGH EASTERN WASHINGTON. (WDFW)

Later in 2011, USFWS declared the species recovered in the western Great Lakes states.

And then in June 2013, with “gray wolves no longer (facing) the threat of extinction or (requiring) the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” according to then-Director Dan Ashe, the feds proposed delisting them throughout the rest of their range.

But progress stalled, and then came a Humane Society of the United States court case addressing Canis lupus in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“Unfortunately, the delisting of wolves in the Western Great Lakes region was successfully overturned by the courts, which prevented the Service from moving forward with the full delisting proposal at that time,” the second part of the USFWS statement concludes.

Last summer, a federal appeals court decision yielded mixed results, but the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation saw positives, including “(undoing) a number of roadblocks thus providing a path forward.”

Over the years, Washington’s and Oregon’s wolf populations have more than doubled from 2013 levels, largely in the state-managed areas.

And now, USFWS’s big, long delisting pause appears to be over, which will excite some and make others fearful.

Oregon Cattlemen Threaten Lawsuit Over Wolf Delisting Review Lag; USFWS Points To Great Lakes Case

It’s been exactly four years to the day since federal managers proposed delisting gray wolves in western and central portions of Washington and Oregon, as well as across most of the country outside of the Northern Rockies.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the species had successfully recovered since its Endangered Species Act listing, and wanted to return management to the states and focus its work on Mexican wolves.

THE OREGON CATTLEMEN’S ASSOCIATION SAYS IT INTENDS TO SUE THE U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE TO COMPLETE ITS REVIEW PROPOSING THE DELISTING OF WOLVES IN WESTERN AND CENTRAL PORTIONS OF THE BEAVER STATE AS WELL AS ELSEWHERE IN THE COUNTRY. (ODFW)

The June 7, 2013 announcement also launched a 90-day public comment period, with a final determination to be “made” the following year.

2014 was three years ago, and with no discernible results, last week the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association announced that it intends to sue USFWS for failing to follow through on the proposal.

According to a story today in the Capital Press, the organization voted to do so at its quarterly meeting.

Reports Katy Nesbit:

Todd Nash, the Cattlemen’s wolf committee chairman, said the absence of a completed analysis three years after U.S. Fish and Wildlife closed its public comment period regarding its environmental policy analysis to delist gray wolves from the endangered species list was one reason for the suit.

“They are legally bound to do that within one year and that’s the preface pressing forward with lawsuit,” Nash said.

The Press‘s story states that while Washington Cattlemen Association members were in also attendance at the quarterly, they were going to take joining the lawsuit back home to their board for more discussion.

So what’s going on with USFWS’s proposal?

It’s a question I’ve asked federal spokesmen on occasion over the years, and today one pointed towards a court case elsewhere in the country as the hold-up.

“Our proposal for delisting the gray wolf in the remainder of its range is predicated on the gray wolf populations in Wyoming and the Western Great Lakes being delisted,” says Sarah Levy. “We are currently waiting for a court decision on delisting wolves in the Western Great Lakes, which puts our larger delisting proposal on hold.”

Last month, under a headline reading “Appeals court holds key to future of wolves,” USA Today reported a ruling from a federal appeals court in Washington DC on the Great Lakes question was “expected soon.”

In March the same court upheld USFWS’s 2012 contention that wolves in Wyoming could be delisted, and that state took over management of the species as of April 26 of this year.

But the newspaper’s story says that the two cases are only similar at a very high level and focus on aspects of state management and federal process.

Time will tell.