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.
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 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.