Tag Archives: RECOVERY

6 Years In, Commissioners Want To Know If Washington Wolf Plan Can Be Tweaked

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioners want to take a look at whether WDFW’s 2011 wolf management plan is actually working in a key area and if it could be tweaked.

Two somewhat unlikely commissioners — at least judging by conventional wisdom standards — led the charge too.

They’re Jay Kehne, the Conservation Northwest staffer based in Omak, and Kim Thorburn, the Spokane birder.

WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONERS JAY KEHNE AND KIM THORBURN. (WDFW)

They made their thoughts known last Saturday morning during the commission’s annual briefing on the state of the state’s wolves, which showed that at the very least we had 122 in 22 packs, including 14 successful breeding pairs at the end of 2017, all increases over 2016 but which also did diddly squat for reaching state delisting goals.

Kehne then Thorburn spoke up right after WDFW staffers displayed a map showing the 2017 dispersal paths of seven telemetry-collared Evergreen State wolves — animals that went every which way but in the one direction that’s actually needed to help meet current recovery benchmarks.

“They’re not dispersing south,” lamented Thorburn.

One wolf, a Smackout female, took a 1,700-mile trek the wrong direction entirely.

It went from Stevens County southeast across North Idaho into Western Montana before cutting back southwest all the way to Riggins, Idaho, then south to Boise, east across the northern edge of the Snake River Plain, checked into West Yellowstone then literally walked off the map on a southeasterly bearing towards central Wyoming.

MAROON AND PURPLE DOTS TRACE THE 2017 DISPERSAL PATHS OF THE LOUP LOUP AND SMACKOUT WOLVES.(WDFW)

Same thing with a Loup Loup wolf.

It took a 540-mile hike through the Okanogan north into southern British Columbia, with a last ping recorded somewhere east of Kelowna.

True, 2017 did see the capture of the first Western Washington wolf in modern times, in eastern Skagit County, and three years before that the first roadkill west of the crest, recovered east of North Bend, so it’s highly likely that other wolves without GPS devices are lurking elsewhere in the Cascades, steadily moving from east to west, north to south, as WDFW often likes to say.

But modeling and assumptions made as far back as nearly a decade ago during development and passage of the wolf management plan — not to mention a March 2014 prediction by then Director Phil Anderson that we could see recovery goals met as soon as 2021 — are now under scrutiny.

A WDFW MAP RELEASED IN LATE 2017 SHOWS THE DISPERSAL PATHS OF 12 COLLARED WASHINGTON WOLVES SINCE 2012. (WDFW)

“The plan is excellent. It was well done. It was based on science, based on input from stakeholders. However, it was a plan,” Kehne said during a phone interview with Northwest Sportsman earlier today.

Pointing to the example of adaptive management of Columbia River salmon fisheries, what Kehne says he’s asking for is a check-up on whether the wolf plan is working the way commissioners and WDFW staffers thought it would when it was put together in 2008, ’09, ’10 and approved in early December 2011.

With very little information about where wolves would actually settle in in Washington, data from other sources was used to create maps of where colonization was most likely to occur and thus the three recovery zones.

One hundred years from now it might be a different story, but so far Canis lupus has done fantastically well in some of the toughest possible habitat to wear a wolf suit, and very poorly in some of the best.

The northern edge of the state’s biggest elk herd’s range is a valley away from the Teanaway wolves, and yet the pack doesn’t appear to give two howls about it. Meanwhile, their cousins are snuggling up with northeastern ranchers’ stock.

Kehne pointed to page 67 of the plan, which notes that “The expectation is that over time, as wolves recolonize Washington, WDFW will be able to collect data from within the state to determine whether the model assumptions are appropriate.”

The thought continues on page 68:

“If future data reveal that the population dynamics of wolves in Washington are significantly different from those used in the model, these conclusions will need to be reevaluated. Incorporating wolf demographic data specific to Washington will allow WDFW to update predictions of population persistence during wolf recovery phases and to revise the recovery objectives, if needed.”

I’m no mathematician, but I do pay attention to probabilities (which I use to collect more than my share of fivers from coworkers during the NFL season) and I now think the odds of having four successful breeding pairs in the South Cascades — where there currently are no known wolves (but likely are) — for three straight years (as required under the plan) by the end of 2021 are very long at best.

I wouldn’t put much more money on four there plus four in the North Cascades and 10 elsewhere in any single year — the recovery shortcut — by 2021 either.

But if I’m wrong, hell, feed me to ’em.

Meanwhile, wolf numbers in the state’s upper righthand corner — where no less than 75 percent of the population, 16 of the packs and 12 of the breeding pairs occur — continue to grow.

ANOTHER 2017 WDFW WOLF MAP SHOWS 72,000 COLLECTED OFF COLLARED WOLVES SINCE 2008.NOTE THAT THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE DATA FROM THE COLVILLE OR SPOKANE RESERVATIONS, WHERE SEVERAL PACKS ARE KNOWN TO OCCUR. (WDFW)

“We’ve been hearing from Northeast Washington for years now, ‘We’re overrun with wolves,'” said Kehne during the commission meeting. “At first we thought, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, they’re just new there and they’re not used to them.’ But they are overrun with wolves. Southeast Washington will be sooner or later full up on their quota of wolf packs.”

“We’re there,” Commissioner Jay Holzmiller of Anatone interrupted him briefly to say.

Earlier this week, Conservation Northwest described Jay Kehne’s role with the organization, telling this magazine that while Kehne is an employee, he has not been involved in its wolf work since late 2017 and instead is focusing his efforts on a Columbia Basin sagelands initiative.

“His role on the commission is entirely independent of his work at CNW and he has every right to express opinions that are not reflective of his employer’s positions,” said spokesman Chase Gunnell.

A statement that Conservation Northwest also posted online after the meeting defended the existing wolf plan and said it “is better left as is until recovery goals are achieved.”

The statement also said that the Wolf Advisory Group, which it is heavily engaged in, will begin discussing what comes after delisting goals are met “and will be advising the Department on how to incorporate new science as well as how to design a fair and inclusive public process for future wolf conservation and management.”

Kehne, who is a hunter and retired from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, said that with state legislators just having granted WDFW $183,000 in the budget to look into the SEPA process for translocating wolves around the state, staffers should tack on also doing so for making a couple “simple changes” to recovery map boundaries.

“I guess what I feel now is, we’re at recovery, we just don’t meet it by  definition that we established seven years ago,” he said during the commission meeting. “And that bothers me because there’s people that come to these meetings, you know, and tell us their stories about losing livestock. And that’s all part of wolf recovery, but I’m really hearing that and it’s bothering me at this stage of the game that we can’t make, at least look into, could we make an adjustment, not be afraid of it, if it made sense?”

Thorburn thought so.

“Getting back to the initial modeling assumptions, everybody involved in the plan development says, ‘We didn’t expect this pileup in Northeast Washington. We expected the dispersal to be a little more spread out.’ And it really has created that social pressure, despite all of the outstanding work by (WDFW) staff,” she said.

Commission Vice Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon said he was also on board with having a report prepared for the citizen oversight panel, though Commissioner Barbara Baker of Olympia cautioned that opening the wolf plan was a “can of worms.”

So as Saturday’s meeting came to a close, a “blue sheet” request from Kehne was put to a vote.

It asks WDFW to prepare a briefing on “administrative options for conserving wolves including (not limited to): updating the 2011 wolf conservation and management plan; targeted narrow change to wolf conservation and management plan recovery boundaries and names to better reflect current recolonization in our state; translocation and postdelisting management plan.”

It passed 8-1, with Baker voting against it, and is expected to be ready by the commission’s August meeting.

Editor’s note, March 23, 2018, 9:40 p.m.: An earlier version of this said that the blue sheet request had passed unanimously, per the commission office, but according to a spokesman the vote was 8-1.

$53 Million For Salmon Habitat Projects In 29 WA Counties Awarded

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE

The Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Puget Sound Partnership today announced the award of more than $53 million in grants for projects that will protect and restore salmon habitat statewide.

EXAMPLES OF PAST STREAM RESTORATION PROJECTS INCLUDE REMOVING PERCHED CULVERTS THAT MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR SALMON AND OTHER STOCKS TO SWIM UPSTREAM … (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE)

“Salmon are vitally important to Washington’s economy and to our way of life. They are one of our state’s most precious resources,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “These projects will help tackle some of the fundamental problems that are destroying our salmon populations. By making these investments we are taking steps to increase the number of salmon so there will be enough fish for future generations, orcas and for the communities and jobs that rely on the fishing industry.”

… REMOVING INVASIVE JAPANESE KNOTWEED AND REPLACING IT WITH NATIVE VEGETATION … (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE)

With the Legislature’s recent approval of the capital budget, grants are being distributed for 163 projects to organizations in 29 of the state’s 39 counties. The grants will be used to remove barriers that prevent salmon from migrating, increase the types and amount of habitat for salmon, protect pristine areas and restore critical habitat so salmon have places to spawn, feed, rest and grow.

… CONSTRUCTING LOGJAMS SO RIVERS CAN REVERT TO MORE NATURAL FLOWS AND PROVIDE FISH PLACES TO REST AND HIDE … (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE)

Grants were given to projects in the counties below. Click to see details on each project:

Asotin County……………………….. $150,110

Chelan County………………….. $1,368,201

Clallam County………………….. $6,142,176

Clark County…………………………. $240,570

Columbia County……………………. $22,000

Cowlitz County…………………… $1,567,061

Garfield County………………………. $83,300

Grays Harbor County……………. $483,911

Island County……………………….. $825,533

Jefferson County……………….. $1,693,673

King County…………………….. $11,671,127

Kitsap County……………………….. $520,558

Kittitas County………………………. $862,119

Klickitat County…………………….. $598,787

Lewis County…………………….. $1,000,794

Mason County……………………. $4,549,648

Okanogan County………………… $487,599

Pacific County………………………. $357,679

Pend Oreille County……………… $342,000

Pierce County……………………. $3,528,850

San Juan County…………………. $745,591

Skagit County…………………….. $5,392,282

Skamania County…………………. $521,548

Snohomish County……………. $2,986,311

Thurston County………………… $1,254,429

Wahkiakum County………………. $507,612

Walla Walla County…………… $1,052,637

Whatcom County……………….. $2,934,300

Yakima County……………………… $228,000

Multiple Counties………………. $1,096,161

“Salmon are the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest,” said Sheida R. Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership. The Partnership’s Leadership Council is the regional salmon recovery organization for most of Puget Sound’s salmon species. “They feed our families, support our culture and fuel our economy. They are also a critical link in the entire food web of the Puget Sound ecosystem. These funds support projects that will help to renew our salmon populations.”

… ADDING WOODY DEBRIS BACK INTO STREAMS, MANY OF WHICH WERE CLEANED OF WHAT TURNED OUT TO A BE KEY INGREDIENT, PER SE, FOR FISH SEVERAL DECADES BACK … (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE)

What is the Problem?

As people moved to Washington and built cities and towns around the water, many of the places salmon live were destroyed. In 1991, the federal government declared the first salmon as threatened with extinction. By the end of that decade, salmon populations had dwindled so much that salmon and bull trout were listed as threatened or endangered in three-quarters of the state.

… AND INSTALLING WIDER, MORE FISH-FRIENDLY CULVERTS TO OPEN UP MILES AND MILES OF LOST OR POTENTIAL SPAWNING HABITAT. (WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE)

“These projects are keeping us from losing salmon entirely,” said David Troutt, chair of the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. “Salmon are in trouble, but we know what to do. We have federally-approved recovery plans in place and the people to make them happen. We must continue these investments if we are to return salmon to healthy and sustainable numbers.”

How Projects are Chosen

Funding for the grants comes from the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration fund, the state capital budget and federal sources. The projects all are linked to federally-approved recovery plans.

“Projects are thoroughly reviewed by local citizens and regional and state technical experts,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, which administers the grants. “This multi-level approach ensures we invest the money in projects that we will know will make a difference and help us recover salmon.”