Despite being hectored, WDFW declined to drop its support for the proposed federal delisting of gray wolves across Washington and says the species could reach state recovery goals in as little as seven years, a letter posted yesterday indicates.
“It does not change our position,” confirms spokesman Bruce Botka this morning.
A consortium of out-of-state and local pro-wolf groups known as the Washington Wolf Collaborative had brazenly told the agency to change its stance after some peer reviewers took issue with USFWS’s science behind the proposal, including its taxonomy for what wolves are where in North America. Thursday was the end of public comment on that.
Another wolf group, Conservation Northwest, then called on WDFW to support the creation of a distinct population segment in the still federally listed western two-thirds of the state, arguing that British Columbia “coastal wolves are now spearheading recovery in Washington’s Cascades en route to the rest of their historic range in Oregon and California.”
That was the point of a BBC film the Bellingham-based organization participated in, but that characterization is not entirely accurate.
In the business, those animals are known as Canis lupus nubilus, but if any wolves are spearheading colonization of the West Coast, it would be Canis lupus occidentalis, of which the most famous example would be OR7, the wolf that wandered over from Northeast Oregon into California and back to Klamath Falls, and in all likelihood is related to those captured in eastern BC and Alberta and released in Central Idaho and Yellowstone in the mid-1990s.
In the aforementioned letter, WDFW director Phil Anderson informs USFWS director Dan Ashe that occidentalis — wolves from Interior BC, Alberta, Idaho, Montana, etc. — “appear to be more rapidly colonizing Washington.”
“Genetic samples taken by the Department, indicate that of the 13 confirmed packs, only Teanaway and Lookout are a mixture of C. l. occidentalis and C. l. nubilus (genetic information is not available for the Wenatchee pack). No pack of solely C. l. nubilus have been documented in Washington,” Anderson states.
Wolf advocates say that nubilus would be an ecological fit for Western Washington because of its proclivity for fishing, and on occasion they’ve pointed to an example from the Twisp River where wolf tracks showed the Lookout Pack eating salmon several falls ago now.
What isn’t so well known is that those salmon were not exactly fair game — more like carrion. After being spawned at a local hatchery, the carcasses had been placed in the river to return marine nutrients to the system.
“Washington’s wolf population is contiguous with populations in British Columbia and the Rocky Mountain states and, as such, we anticipate that if there are adaptive advantages embodied by a particular sub-species, it will play out naturally during wolf re-colonization of our state,” Anderson writes.
The letter is also an update to the feds on how rapidly the state’s wolf population is expanding.
“Based on the growth rate of wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the observed growth in Washington since 2008, Washington may reach state recovery objectives by 2021,” he states.
Wolves were federally delisted in the eastern third of the state in 2011. WDFW’s management plan for the species calls for at least 15 successful breeding pairs — two adults and two pups that survive in a pack at the end of the year — in certain numbers in three recovery zones for three straight years, or 18 pairs again in certain numbers and locations in any single year.