WA, OR Wolf Groups Ask USFWS To Keep Westside Wolves On ESA List

UPDATED 9: A.M. 8-15-12 Attempting to draw a distinction between local wolves and those delisted in the Northern Rockies, Washington and Oregon wolf advocates joined national groups in asking the Obama Administration to keep those in the Cascades on the endangered species list.

The request comes a month and half before a possible federal delisting proposal for wolves in the western two-thirds of both states by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, flies in the face of what Washington wolf managers want and possibly marks a new wrinkle in how the issue will play out in the Northwest.

“The gray wolf has only just begun to recover in the Pacific Northwest and needs continued protection under the Endangered Species Act,” reads a letter from, among others, members of Conservation Northwest of Bellingham, Wolf Haven of Tenino and Oregon Wild of Portland.

In May 2011 President Obama signed the legislation that removed the species from federal protections in the eastern thirds of the two states as well as Northern Rocky Mountains. Since then the Service has been conducting status reviews on Canis lupus elsewhere in the region and country. There have been indications that the Feds are ready to turn all wolf management over to Northwestern states, which the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has basically requested.

As it stands, there are two known packs in the Cascades, Washington’s Lookout and Teanaway Packs. The latter pack’s alpha female is a daughter of the former pack and produced its second known litter this spring.

In a press release, Conservation Northwest and 23 other groups attempt to paint those animals as “distinct from other wolves” in the U.S., sharing “unique ecological, morphological, behavioral and genetic characteristics” similar to those in western British Columbia. A BBC/Discovery Channel documentary CNW participated in attempted to backtrack the Lookouts, of the middle Methow Valley, to salmon-eating coastal Canadian wolves.

While WDFW has stated that the Lookout’s original two alphas do have DNA links to those animals, they also are related to wolves in northeastern BC and northwestern Alberta, the source stock for the mid-1990s reintroduction into the Yellowstone and Central Idaho.

The agency says that “wolves from the Canadian and northern U.S. Rockies, interior British Columbia, Northwest Territories, and nearly all of Alaska are closely related and belong to a single subspecies known as Canis lupus occidentalis. This conclusion is based on the examination of historical and recent wolf specimens collected throughout North America.”

Unresolved is the question of whether there is a separate subspecies in southern and coastal BC known as nubulis. Despite the common border, there is not a single mention of it in Washington’s wolf plan.

An agency wildlife manager said the Service will sort that question out.

Meanwhile, wolves are now doing in Washington and Oregon what wolves have done in the Northern Rockies, breeding, spinning off new packs, chewing on things they should and shouldn’t — and dispersing.

Oregon’s Imnaha Pack has seen at least five of its members depart, including to Washington, Idaho, and Central and Northeast Oregon. In all likelihood, those and its world-famous progeny, OR7, which left the Wallowa Mountains last September and traveled through Oregon’s southern Cascades before leaving for California, are related to some of the 66 wolves brought down from BC and Alberta by the Service.

Wolves are notorious for covering huge chunks of ground in their search for mates and territory, as the wanderings of that animal, a Teanaway wolf that went on a walkabout to Canada earlier this year before it was shot dead well north of Kootenay Lake, B.C. and others, such as the one that covered over 3,000 miles and parts of five states between Paradise Valley, Mont., and northwestern Colorado, show.

That makes one wonder exactly how pure any supposed subspecies might be.

Earlier this year, WDFW’s director Phil Anderson sent a letter to Dan Ashe, USFWS chief in DC, stating:

Given the observed rate of wolf colonization and the extensive movements of wolves in Washington, we are confident that wolves from the NRM DPS (and their descendents) will continue to colonize Washington at a significantly higher rate compared to source animals that might come from southern British Columbia. As a result of this biological information, the Department does not support the creation of a new DPS that would include the western two-thirds of Washington. Wolves in any part of our state will not be “discrete” from or represent a “significant” population of wolves that differs from those in the NRM DPS; therefore we do not believe that they would meet the Service’s DPS policy standards.

Then there was the pet Yukon wolf, two generations removed from the wild, that was released in southern BC in the late 1980s which led to a flurry of sightings at Washington’s Ross Lake in subsequent years. Are any of the Lookouts related to it?

Anti-wolfers are often chided for their mistaken claims that the wrong wolves were brought into the U.S., but it seems that wolf advocates can also try and bend the taxonomy to their goals.

Anderson also wrote that continued federal protection in the state’s western two-thirds “counter-intuitively limits” wolf recovery and management:

Broad social tolerance of wolves is absolutely essential to recovery, especially in rural areas. Under an endangered designation in the western two-thirds of Washington, we will not be able to utilize many of our important management tools. For instance, issuing “caught in the act” lethal removal permits to livestock operators is a valuable tool for wolf recovery because the permits empower operators inthe rare event of witnessing wolves depredating livestock. The ability to issue a permit under the right circumstances establishes trust and facilitates dialogue which enables us to work with operators on non-lethal measures and husbandry techniques to avoid conilicts.

It’s a dangerous game of “what ifs,” but should USFWS ultimately decide there is a distinct subspecies in the Cascades, that would make translocation of Northeast Washington wolves, where most of the state’s currently live, trickier and even less likely than it already is.

Other groups signing the letter to Obama include several of those which held up federal delisting of wolves in the Northern Rockies through lawsuits — Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Hells Canyon Preservation Council — and one that refused to sign onto a proposed spring 2011 delisting agreement with the Service, HSUS.

Even if the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was to propose calling recovery in the region good enough, wolves would remain protected under Oregon and Washington state law, with monetary penalties for poaching animals. Proposed legislation WDFW may ask legislators to vote for next session would peg the fine for illegally killing a wolf at $4,000.

Bottom line, Northwest wolves are gonna be fine, but human meddling — both poaching and legal — will hinder their speedy recovery.

See this blog by The Oregonian‘s Scott Learn for a link to a PDF of the letter to Obama.

For a point-counterpoint of today’s press release from the wolf groups, see Rich Landers’ blog.

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