Category Archives: Wolf News

Judge Dismisses SEPA Portion Of Lawsuit Over WDFW Wolf Removals

A Thurston County Superior Court judge today ruled against out-of-state environmentalist groups targeting Washington’s protocols for lethally removing problem wolves.

The Center for Biological Diversity of Arizona and Cascadia Wildlands of Eugene said the guidelines adopted in 2017 should have been evaluated under the State Environmental Policy Act and before three kill orders were issued last year, but Judge John C. Skinder dismissed their two claims to that effect.

(WIKIMEDIA)

In court papers, WDFW argued that taking out livestock-attacking wolves falls “squarely within several SEPA categorical exemptions” and pointed to state Supreme Court case law, state statutes and administrative codes.

The agency said that the organizations were misreading the act to try to include its wolf-livestock protocols, which guide nonlethal and lethal responses to attacks on cattle, sheep and other domestic animals, as part of the SEPA process.

WDFW’s wolf management plan did go through the environmental review before it was adopted in 2011, and the protocols are said to “flow from” that document.

Even as it represents another court victory against those chivvying WDFW over its predator management, wolf policy manager Donny Martorello was subdued early this afternoon in response to Judge Skinder’s decision.

“Our preference is not to be in court. I’m not a fan of winners and losers. I prefer the Wolf Advisory Group’s collaborative process,” he stated. “I concur that the judge’s decision was concurrent with case history, concurrent with state statute and Fish and Wildlife Commission rules, and I think it’s the right decision.”

The lawsuit was filed last fall by the two pro-wolf organizations after agency Director Kelly Susewind issued authorizations to kill members of three packs that were depredating cattle in Ferry and Stevens Counties.

WDFW, CBD and Cascadia Wildlands agreed to drop a third claim over a kill permit that had been extended to a Togo Pack range rancher.

A fourth claim, a merits hearing on whether removals violate the state’s Administrative Procedure Act, has not yet been scheduled, according to Martorello.

Killing wolves is a hot topic in Washington as WDFW attempts to balance recovering the species with the impact the animals have on local ranchers and herds.

Earlier this fall, Governor Jay Inslee told the agency to “make changes in the gray wolf recovery program to further increase the reliance on non-lethal methods, and to significantly reduce the need for lethal removal of this species” in Ferry County’s Kettle Range.

The agency is currently in a public scoping period for what’s important to hunters and other residents as it begins planning for postrecovery management of wolves in Washington.

Wolves A Topic As WDFW Director Appears On TVW

While Washington hunters’ and anglers’ kids were out trick-or-treating last night, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind was on TVW’s Inside Olympia, speaking on agency hot-button items of the day — if not the past decade.

Budget; wolves; salmon production, fishing seasons and orca recovery; sea lion management; and Columbia gillnetting.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND (RIGHT) APPEARED ON INSIDE OLYMPIA WITH HOST AUSTIN JENKINS TO TALK ABOUT VARIOUS FISH AND WILDLIFE ISSUES. (TVW)

Given Governor Jay Inslee’s recent letter to WDFW on wolves and its response, and a court hearing today with two environmental groups, host Austin Jenkins dedicated a full third of his near-hour-long show to the subject of Canis lupus in Washington.

Watching it this morning, my ears perked up when the subject of wolf hunting came up for several minutes.

“It’s a legitimate hunting activity.”
–WDFW Director Kelly Susewind

That topic is among the boxes, per se, folks can check off as an important one to them in the agency’s extended scoping survey as it begins planning for postrecovery wolf management.

In the interest of sharing with fellow hunters where WDFW’s at with the issue, here’s how the conversation went down, based on a corrected transcript:

Austin Jenkins: In a kind of post-protected status environment, can you imagine a management plan that allows for the hunting of wolves?

Kelly Susewind: It’s certainly on the table. It’s a controversial issue. I don’t know if we’ll get there or not — that will be the outcome of our processes — but it certainly needs to be on the table. It’s been an activity that occurs in other states when they’ve reached the recovery stage.

AJ: And why does it need to be on the table? Is that a management question?

KS: Well, I guess it doesn’t have to be. To me it’s a process question, it’s good governance. We’re going into this with an open mind; we have no preconceived notions of what a postdelisting plan looks like. And so I want virtually everything on the table. Let’s give it a thorough vetting with a broad public base. Let’s understand where the citizens want to be on this issue.

We could manage with or without a hunting season. I think as you get the bigger numbers, there’s just the realities of what it’s going to take to manage, and we have to manage: It’s an apex predator. It’s wonderful that we’re getting to recovery; we have to manage in a way where they can coexist with humans.

A WASHINGTON HUNTER TAKES A LOOK AT A MOUNTAINSIDE AS HIS SHADOW STRETCHES OUT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

AJ: I think people can, and even if somebody who doesn’t hunt themselves might, understand hunting fowl, they might understand hunting deer and elk, because clearly when you hunt those animals you’re getting meat and you can eat them and there’s sort of this reason for, you know, getting your own food source. Hunting wolves doesn’t necessarily have that correlation, so what would be the purpose for hunting wolves other than somebody doesn’t like them and wants a tag to go kill them, or the sport of it, or perhaps because it’s a way to augment population control to the extent the agency wants and needs to do that?

KS: I would hope it would be the latter two. We don’t want folks out there killing wolves because they don’t like wolves. It’s a legitimate hunting activity. It’s not for protein, as you said, but hopefully — not hopefully, it has to be if we allow it — it has to be done as a part of management control, population control. 

From that perspective, there are a lot of folks out there who would like to enjoy going out and pursuing. It would be a challenge, to say the least. To do this from the ground in the way that we hunt in this state would be a challenge for folks. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, we again no preconceived notion of how that turns out.

Certainly there’s less of an appetite for hunting that’s not associated with food, with gathering protein, so it’s tougher in general. Then you bring in the passion people have for wolves. We’re a long ways from getting to a hunting season, I think.

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

Since they were delisted in the early years of this decade wolves have been hunted in northeastern Washington by the Colville and Spokane Tribes, both on and off reservation, and now year-round with no limit on how many can be taken.

State managers have never worried that tribal hunting seasons would be a conservation concern either in that well-wolfed corner of Washington, or beyond.

Then again, there’s not much they — or even the fiercest of pro-wolfers — can do about it, as the tribes are sovereign nations and can manage wildlife how they want.

As for whether state hunters will one day be able to pursue wolves, there’s a two-part answer to that.

The technical process — the road map to a hunt — is easy.

It needs to be part of the environmental impact statement that will be developed out of this fall’s scoping process. The Fish and Wildlife Commission has to approve the plan with that element, downlist the status of wolves from state endangered to game species as they meet the recovery goals, and then set regulations and seasons.

The more difficult part is that wolf hunts are a “magnitudes bigger issue” than wolf-livestock conflict, which itself is huge.

There will be titanic headwinds and icy waters to steer through.

One avenue may be mediation between the sides — hunters, wolf lovers and other interested instate parties — just like how the disparate interests on WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group came together to agree on nonlethal preventative work and lethal protocols for removing wolves that attack cattle, sheep and other domestic animals.

Yet even as the idea is now percolating, as it were, it may also be on that stove for quite some time.

“We’re a long ways from getting to a hunting season, I think.”
–Susewind

Meanwhile, the scoping period that will help shape the draft environmental impact statement for how to manage wolves postrecovery continues through 5 p.m., Nov. 15.

It would behoove us hunters to register our thoughts formally. The time it takes to leave yet another comment on a Facebook wolf post isn’t much longer than it takes to fill out the seven-field questionnaire.

Go here.

Washington Wolf Scoping Comment Period Extended To Mid-Nov.

WDFW has extended the public scoping comment period for how to manage postdelisted wolves in Washington into mid-November.

It had been scheduled to wrap up tomorrow at 5 p.m.

A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED A NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON WOLF PACKING QUARTERS OF WHITETAIL FAWN BACK TO THE DEN. (JEFF FLOOD)

“This gives people more time to submit input, especially those in rural areas without internet service,” the agency stated in a press release out yesterday.

Under the current management plan recovery goals have yet to be met but with that not too far off, the scoping period is essentially the first step in the process towards developing an environmental impact statement, which as a draft will be open for public comment with open houses likely.

You can have your thoughts recorded via wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/gray-wolf/post-recovery-planning or mail them to Lisa Wood, SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, WDFW Habitat Program, Protection Division, P.O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504.

Deadline for either is Nov. 15, with 5 p.m. being the cutoff point for online comments and mailed-in ones needed to be postmarked by that day.

It’s Public Comment Season In The P.N.W.: Sea Lions, Wolves, Grizzlies

Editor’s note: Since this blog was posted Monday, Oct. 28, WDFW has announced that the public scoping period for future wolf management planning will extend through 5 p.m. Nov. 15.

As one public comment period closed last week, two others important to Northwest sportsmen will end soon as well.

Tuesday, Oct. 29 is when commenting wraps up on a proposal by the three Northwest states and several tribes to remove California and Steller sea lions in an expanded part of the Lower Columbia watershed, while this Friday afternoon is when the scoping period for postrecovery wolf management planning ends in Washington.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

Last Thursday saw the second comment period on plans to recover grizzly bears in the North Cascades wrap up following several well-attended meetings in the region.

Following passage of the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act by Congress last winter, IDFG, ODFW, WDFW and the Nez Perce Tribe, Yakama Nation and other tribal partners in the Columbia Basin put in for a permit that would allow removals of sea lions in tributaries with listed salmon and steelhead runs, as well as in the Columbia from river mile 112, around Washougal, up to McNary Dam.

Currently, sea lions are only being taken out in the mainstem at Bonneville.

It’s not a ultimate cure-all for all the woes Chinook, coho, summer-runs and other stocks face — many other species chew on them and fish habitat has been radically altered — but already the ability to remove the marine mammals is showing results at Willamette Falls.

According to a Bill Monroe article in The Oregonian late last week, sea lion predation of winter steelhead and spring Chinook there has dropped by as much as 75 and 55 percent, respectively, since Oregon received a federal permit.

ODFW took out 33 last winter and spring, and that has greatly increased the odds that the ESA-listed steelhead stock will not go extinct, “probably to less than 10 percent,” according to the agency’s Dr. Shaun Clement, Monroe reported.

A SEA LION FLINGS A SALMONID AT WILLAMETTE FALLS. (ODFW)

To comment on the expanded program in the Columbia, go here by tomorrow.

As for Washington wolf management, 5 p.m. Nov. 1 is the deadline to register your thoughts as WDFW looks towards the next phase of the species’ recovery in the state.

There are two options, a scoping questionaire that asks for your age, sex, county of residence, whether you live in a rural, suburban or urban area, whether you identify as a hunter, livestock producer, outdoor recreationist or environmentalist, and a list to check off the topics most important to you in terms of wolf management.

That takes less than two minutes, but another option allows for more submitting more expansive thoughts.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS WHERE COMMENTS ON ITS PUBLIC SCOPING PERIOD ON FUTURE WASHINGTON WOLF MANAGEMENT WERE COMING FROM, AS OF OCT. 17, 2019. (WDFW)

When the Fish and Wildlife Commission met a week and a half ago, wolf managers updated them on how the scoping process was going through Oct. 17, and wolf hunting and wolf-livestock conflicts were the two most important topics among respondents, followed by wolf conservation and monitoring.

Translocation — moving nonproblem wolves from one part of the state to others — was the least important.

Rural residents and outdoor recreationists have been among those participating in the survey in the highest numbers.

Don’t believe your voice counts in public comment?

With WDFW proposing a blanket elimination of daily and size limits on bass, walleye and channel catfish in 146 lakes across Washington (most don’t have the latter two species, but the first are widespread), testimony heard by the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their October meeting had the citizen panel pushing back and asking for a more refined proposal from fishery managers as the state agency tries to follow a legislative directive to provide more forage fish for orcas.

Hunter Candidates Needed For WDFW Wolf Advisory Group

Hunters are being called on to put in their application to serve on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wolf Advisory Group.

It’s a key time to join the panel and comes as many Evergreen State sportsmen are also preparing for the opening of rifle deer season this weekend and Eastside elk later in the month.

A LATE-SEASON BLACKTAIL HUNTER LOOKS OVER WESTERN WASHINGTON REPROD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The three-year term will overlap WDFW’s development of post state delisting wolf management planning, and follows on the WAG’s steady focus on livestock conflicts since it was formed in 2013.

“This group has been extremely helpful in advising the department on the challenging issue of recovering and managing gray wolves in our state,” Director Kelly Susewind said in a press release. “We are looking for candidates who value working cooperatively with others to develop management recommendations to advise the agency.”

WDFW is also looking for representatives from the ranching, environmental and at-large communities to fill out four vacancies.

Around this time last year, when the agency made a similar call as other seats came open, a hunter urged their fellow sportsmen to put in for the WAG.

Applications are being taken through 5 p.m., Nov. 8. To apply or nominate someone, WDFW is asking for:

* The applicant or nominee’s name, address, telephone number, and email address;
* People or groups making nominations must also submit their own names and contact information;
* The candidate’s relevant experience, organizational affiliations, and reasons why they would be an effective advisory group member;
* Familiarity with Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and current wolf recovery status and management issues; and
* Experience in collaborating with people with different values.

Materials should either be emailed to wildthing@dfw.wa.gov or mailed to WDFW, P. O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504-3200.

First Wolf In Washington’s Blues Removed After Cattle Attacks

WDFW reported today that it took out a Grouse Flats wolf late last month, making it the first to be killed by state managers in Washington’s Blue Mountains in response to cattle depredations there.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE ROUGH LOCATION OF THE GROUSE FLATS PACK’S RANGE, ON THE SOUTHEAST SIDE OF SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON’S BLUE MOUNTAINS. (WDFW)

The agency describes the animal as an adult female and says it’s likely the breeding female of a pack that numbered at least nine before Director Kelly Susewind authorized the incremental removal operation Sept. 24.

The Asotin-Garfield County wolves are blamed on at least seven attacks on cows and calves since August 2018, including four in the last 10 months and two in a recent 30-day period.

The incidents occurred on a mix of federal and state grazing lands and private ground.

WDFW says it’s now entered the evaluation period with the pack to see if the removal changes its behavior, “for example by disrupting the overlap of wolves and livestock, or reducing the caloric intake needs for the pack.”

There are six adults and two juveniles in the group, according to spokeswoman Staci Lehman.

The removal occurred Sept. 25, nearly a week before Gov. Jay Inslee sent WDFW a letter to do more nonlethal and less lethal management of wolves elsewhere in Eastern Washington.

“We must find new methods to better support co-existence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state. The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable,” the governor wrote Sept. 30 about issues in the Kettle Range that cropped up during the summers of 2019, 2018 and 2016, primarily with Diamond M Ranch cattle grazing in the Colville National Forest.

By one count, around a dozen and a half wolves — members of the Profanity and Old Profanity Territory Packs — have been removed there following chronic depredations of dozens upon dozens of cows and calves.

Wolf advocates welcomed the news while WDFW’s response to Inslee’s request was said to be “muted” by the Capital Press.

The ag-world news source also paraphrased the federal forest’s range supervisor as saying “that he doesn’t know of anything else to test, short of canceling grazing permits or closing allotments” to do in terms of nonlethal tactics.

“Anything outside of that, we have tried,” Travis Fletcher told the Press. “I would say there’s not a producer we work with who hasn’t adjusted their practices in some way.”

Inslee asked WDFW to fast track an ongoing lethal management guidelines update and work with the Forest Service, as well as gave the agency a Dec. 1 deadline for a progress report.

Most Washington wolf packs stay out of trouble with livestock, 90 percent, according to WDFW, a higher percentage than nearby states.

WDFW Responds To Inslee’s Kettle Range Wolf Management Request

Washington wildlife managers are responding to Governor Jay Inslee’s request to do something different in a very problematic part of the state for wolves and cattle, terming it a “top priority.”

“The forest conditions and livestock operations in this particular landscape make it extremely challenging, and unfortunately, has resulted in repeated lethal removal actions. We all share the perspective that something has to change to reduce the loss of both wolves and livestock in this area. WDFW believes this is consistent with the Governor’s request,” a statement sent out this afternoon to Northwest Sportsman reads.

WDFW’S 2018 WOLF MAP SHOWS WHERE WASHINGTON’S 27 KNOWN PACKS ROAMED AT THE END OF LAST YEAR. THE O.P.T. WOLVES OF NORTHEAST WASHINGTON HAVE SINCE BEEN REMOVED FOR LIVESTOCK DEPREDATIONS, AND HAVE LED TO A REQUEST FROM THE GOVERNOR TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT FOR FUTURE WOLF-LIVESTOCK CONFLICTS IN THE KETTLE RANGE. (WDFW)

It follows on Inslee’s letter to Director Kelly Susewind last night asking the state agency to “make changes in the gray wolf recovery program to further increase the reliance on non-lethal methods, and to significantly reduce the need for lethal removal of this species.”

Wolves roaming northern Ferry County’s Kettle Range were taken out by WDFW in 2016, 2018 and again this summer in response to chronic depredations on cattle mostly owned by a single ranch, the Diamond M, and largely grazing on federal forest allotments.

The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back may have been piled on in mid-July, about a month before WDFW killed the last four of the eight members of the Old Profanity Territory Pack right before a court date.

The state operates under an agreed-to protocol where producers need to have been using a set number of livestock-wolf conflict avoidance measures and suffer either three wolf attacks in 30 days or four in 10 months before lethal removal is considered.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

Even as WDFW’s gray wolf email blasts chronicled preventative steps as well as the evidence the OPTs were responsible for nearly 30 attacks stretching back to last year, a mid-July update also states, “WDFW-contracted range riders did not resume riding because the livestock producer prefers that contracted range riders not work with the producer’s cattle at this time.”

Range riders are not mentioned in subsequent updates.

Just as some cowboys are all hat, certainly not all range riders are created equal, and it’s an operator’s prerogative whether to use those offered.

But pressure has also been growing on the Democratic governor running for a third term from outside as well as inside the state to do something different in this thick, steep, half-burnt neck of the woods.

Some will see Inslee’s move as inserting himself and outside opinions about wildlife into state management, as well as meddling in affairs outside his depth.

“Perhaps Gov. Inslee, whose ideas about climate change propelled his presidential campaign into a political black hole, will have more luck dazzling voters with his wolf management expertise,” shot longtime Washington hunter and gun writer Dave Workman.

Scott Nielsen of the Cattle Producers of Washington said he’d like to see Inslee more worried about his herd, per a Capital Press story out today.

Indeed, it will be very interesting to see what better ideas the governor and his staff can come up with for better managing this cauldron.

GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE GIVES HIS 2019 STATE OF THE STATE SPEECH EARLIER THIS YEAR. (GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

Some appear to want an all-but-hands-off wolf management approach, with the Center For Biological Diversity trumpeting about Inslee’s request for a new tack and his appreciation for “these ecologically essential and wondrous animals.”

It will also be interesting to see if CBD gets involved more closely going forward.

Instate wolf advocates say they are glad Inslee weighed in.

Conservation Northwest put out a statement this morning stating they agree “that more work is needed in certain areas, including northeast Washington’s Kettle River Mountain Range. We’re committed to collaborating with agency staff, ranchers, biologists and others to continue moving towards the goal of long-term recovery and public acceptance of wolves alongside thriving local communities.”

Love them, loath them or just wish this never-ending cow-lupus drama would end already, ultimately in a state like Washington, wolves are going to be around for a very long time, and there are other aspects of their management that have gone overlooked for far too long and deserve time too, namely ungulate impacts and possible hunting permits down the road.

Whether this new push from the governor helps or hurts that remains to be seen as well.

As it stands, roughly 90 percent of the state’s 27 known packs aren’t causing any issues with livestock — this grazing season anyway — according to WDFW.

But with conflict in the Kettles “greatly impacting many of our communities, including ranching communities, environmental communities,” and itself, WDFW said it will “continue working with the Wolf Advisory Group and stakeholders on minimizing conflict proactively with lethal removal as a last resort.”

“We are also engaging with the local community, the US Forest Service, and others to seek new solutions for this challenging landscape,” WDFW stated.

Meanwhile, there are two ongoing wolf removal authorizations in Eastern Washington that have not been placed on hold because of the governor’s letter.

“The Togo authorization still stands, although we haven’t been actively working to remove wolves from that pack in several weeks as the right opportunity — conducive weather, employee schedules, helicopter scheduling, etc. — hasn’t been available,” said a spokeswoman.

The Togo operation began not long after the nearby OPT removals, but in sharp contrast, no pack members have been killed.

“The Grouse Flats authorization still stands as well,” the spokeswoman added.

It’s the first against a pack in all of Southeast Washington since wolves began moving back into the neighborhood.

 

Washington Governor Asks WDFW For Changes In Wolf Management

Updated 6:30 a.m., Oct. 1, 2019.

For the second time in recent years, Washington Governor Jay Inslee is stepping in state wildlife managers’ wheelhouse on predator management, in 2015 with cougars and this fall over wolves.

He sent WDFW Director Kelly Susewind a letter today that in part asks the agency to “make changes in the gray wolf recovery program to further increase the reliance on non-lethal methods, and to significantly reduce the need for lethal removal of this species.”

A WASHINGTON WOLF TAKES A LOOK AROUND. (WDFW)

Referring to issues in Ferry and Stevens Counties, Inslee claims that the state wolf plan “does not appear to be working as intended” there and that he believes WDFW “cannot continue using the same management approach on this particular landscape.”

Northeast Washington is not only where the most wolves in the state are and where recovery goals were met long ago but also the sight of the most conflicts with livestock, mostly cattle but some sheep, on federal allotments and private lands.

Even as most Washington wolf packs generally stay out of trouble, there have been chronic depredations in the Kettle Range three of the past four years with the Profanity Peak, Old Profanity Territory, Togo and Sherman Packs coming under WDFW’s gun as livestock pile up and nonlethal tactics fail.

The agency uses a hard-won protocol to detrmine when to remove wolves, with requirements that producers use a set number of conflict prevention measures and that there have been either three confirmed/probable wolf attacks in a month or four confirmed in a year. It was agreed to by WDFW and members of its Wolf Advisory Group, made up of ranchers, hunters, advocates and others from Washington. Ever since it has been in place, out-of-state groups have been trying to blow it up.

Triggered by issues there again this year, wolf advocates, mostly from out of state and now including Wayne Pacelle, formerly of HSUS, have been mounting yet another pressure campaign on the governor.

It also involved a court battle this summer that saw WDFW lethally remove what were believed to be the last four OPT wolves just before a judge ordered them to cease the operation.

“We must find new methods to better support co-existence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state. The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable,” writes Inslee.

Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) is right in the thick of things in Northeast Washington and read the letter for the first time this evening.

He reiterated that he supports non-lethal work that is site-specific as well as more innovative local range riding programs, but also said that problem wolves need to be dealt with quickly, effectively and completely to head off more down the road.

He feels that 2018’s and 2019’s OPT Pack was the same as the Profanities that were in the middle of 2016’s end-of-summer nightmare.

Kretz said he prefers working with those invested in the area and claimed groups like Center for Biological Diversity are driven to create conflict for the revenues it brings in rather than the good of the local community.

“I think it’s people from hundreds of miles away throwing hand grenades,” Kretz said.

Pacelle’s Maryland-based Center for a Humane Economy bought a full-page ad in The Seattle Times this summer and reintroduced former WSU professor Rob Wielgus, now in Oregon, back into the fray. A Spokane-based group also put a message on a video billboard along I-5 for a couple week.

WDFW wasn’t expected to have a comment until Tuesday.

The letter to Susewind and cc’ed to Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Larry Carpenter comes not long after the director authorized incremental removals on the Grouse Flats Pack in the Blue Mountains and as there is an ongoing operation on the Togo Pack, and WDFW sent Inslee a request to include $26 million from the state General Fund in its supplemental budget next legislative session.

It arrives as the federal grazing season wraps up.

And it comes as WDFW’s post wolf delisting planning stage kicked off earlier in September.

“I believe the Canadian Gray wolf population within Washington’s borders has reached a population level that warrants delisting by the Fish and Wildlife Commission,” Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen), chairman of the House natural resources committee which WDFW legislation goes through, said Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, Inslee is asking the agency to fast track an ongoing lethal management guidelines update and work with the Forest Service, which is in charge of grazing on national forest lands.

And he gave them a Dec. 1 deadline for a progress report on his requests.

Blue Mountains Wolf Pack To Be Targeted For Cattle Depredations

State wolf managers are giving eight hours’ court notice before going after a pack in Washington’s southeast corner.

THE GROUSE FLATS PACK ROAMS THE SOUTHEASTERN CORNER OF WASHINGTON’S BLUE MOUNTAINS, A MIX OF FEDERAL AND STATE LANDS AND RANCHES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW says the Grouse Flats wolves have two depredations in the past 30 days, four in 10 months — the threshold for consideration of lethal removal — and seven overall since August 2018.

“Proactive nonlethal deterrents … used by livestock producers in the area have not influenced pack behavior to reduce the potential for continued depredations on livestock,” the agency stated in an update announcing Director Kelly Susewind’s decision.

The operation is described as “incremental,” which means pursuing wolves and possibly taking out one in hopes of changing the pack’s behavior. A period of evaluation follows to see if it worked.

Unless headed off in court today, it will be the first time that WDFW has gone after wolves in the Blue Mountains.

All other lethal operations have occurred in Northeast Washington’s Kettle, Huckleberry and Selkirk Ranges.

The Grouse Flats wolves have killed or injured calves and cows belonging to at least four different producers and which were grazing on a mix of private land and on state wildlife area and Forest Service allotments, according to WDFW chronologies.

It’s one of four known packs that den on the Washington side of the mountain range. Another half dozen or so are on the Oregon side.

“The lethal removal of wolves in the Grouse Flats pack is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach the statewide recovery objective,” WDFW said in its announcement, posted before 8 a.m. to get the court clock ticking.

Earlier this summer, the agency said it had eliminated the Old Profanity Territory Pack for chronic cattle attacks in northern Ferry County.

It has also been targeting the Togo Pack, in the same region of Northeast Washington for depredations going back to 2017, but none have been removed.

In other Evergreen State wolf news, tomorrow, Sept. 25, is WDFW’s second webinar as it begins planning for how to manage the species after delisting.

Unlike the first, this one will be held during the lunch hour, from 12 to 1 p.m., for those who were unable to participate during dinnertime, when the last one was held last week.

The third is coming up Tuesday, Oct. 15, 6-7:30 p.m.

WDFW’s monthly report for August also describes the wounding of a wolf that approached ranch hands in northeastern Okanogan County.

On Aug. 30, ranch personnel encountered the Beaver Creek wolf pack on private land while searching for a bear seen earlier that morning. A 16-year-old deceased cow was in the area; wolves were not seen feeding on it and the cause of death was unknown. After one of the ranch personnel fired a shot over three adult wolves observed, all of the pack members (four pups in addition to the three adults) retreated, except one adult not previously seen. The wolf that remained approached the ranch personnel. They felt threatened and shot it, and believe they injured the wolf. It retreated and was not located after a search by WDFW staff. Staff believe that the behavior observed indicates the ranch personnel came upon the Beaver Creek rendezvous site.

The update had “no activity to report” for 17 of state’s 27 known packs, couldn’t report on three that occur on the Colville Reservation, where the tribes are the lead managers, listed deterrence measures being taken to prevent conflicts with a pair of Kittitas County packs and grazing sheep and cows, and said trail cams were being put up in the Wedge Pack territory to monitor wolves there.

A Spokane Spokesman-Review article last week details the newest member of WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group, Bill Kemp, a retired cross-country coach who owns 300 acres which is roamed by the Carpenter Ridge Pack.

And also in the SSR in mid-September, Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Dr. Kim Thorburn penned an op-ed that took issue with one from Sophia Ressler of the Center for Biological Diversity that criticized lethal removals as “cruel” and a waste of money spent developing wolf management policies.

“It was also full of accusations against ranchers who are trying to sustain a livelihood in wolf country,” Thorburn wrote. “It seems crueler to level fraught allegations of malfeasance against passionate professionals devoting their lives to the preservation, protection and perpetuation of the state’s wildlife and to force unscientific anthropomorphic values on rural communities living among wolves.”

WDFW Schedules Wolf Webinars To Talk Postrecovery Planning, Management

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled three online, interactive webinars this September and October to discuss planning and management for wolf populations once they are no longer listed as endangered in the state.

“We know that wolves are a huge topic of interest to the public and we want to hear everyone’s input, in a respectful and productive way, on how to manage them,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “These digital open houses will allow anyone who is interested to learn about Washington’s wolves, ask questions, and find out how to provide feedback on the topic.”

While public comment won’t be accepted during the webinars, the goal is to both educate about wolves and share ways that people can voice their thoughts to WDFW concerning wolf management. This input will help to inform the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process that will be used to develop a post-recovery plan for wolves.

The dates for the interactive webinars are:

Everyone is welcome to take part in these webinars. They can be accessed by either clicking the links above or going to the home page of the WDFW website at wdfw.wa.gov and clicking on a link there.

There are other ways to participate in WDFW’s scoping process as well; WDFW is accepting comments via an online survey, online commenting, and in writing by mailing to Lisa Wood, WDFW – Wolf Post-Recovery Plan Scoping, PO Box 43200, Olympia WA 98504-3200.

“This is an important topic that many people are passionate about and we want ideas on how to find a balance where wolves can coexist with people, livestock, and other wildlife,” Susewind added.

The public scoping comment period remains open until Nov. 1. The Department’s work to develop this plan is a multi-year effort and, as wolf management options begin to take shape, there will be further opportunities to engage with agency staff.

More information on wolves in Washington and wolf post-recovery planning can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/wolves-post-recovery.

Editor’s note: Here is what the webpage immediately above states:

Wolf post-recovery planning: Purpose, background, and FAQs

Purpose

The purpose of this Environmental Impact Statement is to develop an updated conservation and management plan for wolves in Washington to ensure a healthy, productive wolf population with long-term stability once wolves are recovered and no longer designated as state or federally endangered. The plan will guide WDFW in long-term wolf conservation and management.

Background

Historically, gray wolves (Canis lupus) were common throughout most of Washington, but they declined rapidly between 1850 and 1900. The primary cause of this decline was the killing of wolves by Euro-American settlers as ranching and farming activities expanded. They were essentially eliminated as a breeding species from the state by the 1930s. Wolves were classified as endangered in Washington at the federal level in 1973 and at the state level in 1980.

Confirmed reports of dispersing wolves in northern Washington from growing populations in Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia, Canada began to increase after 1990, but the first resident pack in the state since the 1930s was not documented until 2008 in Okanogan County in north-central Washington. Since that time, wolves have continued to naturally recolonize the state by dispersing from resident Washington packs and neighboring states and provinces.

In response to the return of wolves to Washington, there was a need for a state recovery plan per WAC 220-610-110, and in anticipation of the eventual return of all wolf management to the state, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) initiated development of a state wolf conservation and management plan under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) in 2007. Assisted by an 18-member working group comprised of stakeholders, the plan was developed during 2007–2011 and was adopted in December 2011 by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. The 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan provided the outline for state wolf management and was designed to restore and protect a self-sustaining wolf population in Washington. It is the guiding document for wolf management in the state to date.

Since 2008, Washington’s wolf population has grown by an average of 28 percent per year. As of December 31, 2018, wolf numbers in Washington have increased to a minimum of 126 individuals, 27 packs, and 15 successful breeding pairs, marking a population increase for the 10th consecutive year and the highest counts to date. Not only is Washington’s wolf population growing, but its distribution is also expanding westward in the state. In 2018, WDFW biologists confirmed the state’s first wolf pack west of the Cascade crest in the modern era, while the number of packs in the North Cascades recovery region increased from three to five and the number of successful breeding pairs from one to three. WDFW is confident that Washington’s wolf population is on a path leading to successful recovery.

In addition, on March 15, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposal to federally delist gray wolves in the lower 48 states. Under the proposal, wolves in Washington statewide would be federally delisted and management authority would be returned to the state, except for tribal reservations and national parks.

In anticipation of and given the pace of wolf recovery, and in light of potential listing status changes, WDFW proposes to develop a post-recovery conservation and management plan for wolves to guide long-term wolf conservation and management under state authority once wolves are considered recovered in Washington and are no longer designated as state or federally endangered.

FAQs

What is a post-recovery plan?     

A post-recovery conservation and management plan for wolves will guide long-term wolf conservation and management under state authority once the wolf population in Washington is considered recovered and is no longer designated as state or federally endangered.

Doesn’t the department already have a wolf plan?

Yes, the department currently uses the 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan to guide wolf conservation and management in Washington. However, this plan is now eight years old and was developed specifically to inform and guide wolf recovery in the state while wolves are considered endangered. The new wolf plan will focus on how the department will conserve and manage wolves in the long term after wolf recovery objectives are achieved.

Why does the department need to develop a new wolf plan now?

Given the current pace of wolf recovery, the post-recovery planning process is being initiated proactively because WDFW anticipates it will likely take two to three years to complete. Ideally, the pace of our planning process would match the pace of Washington wolf recovery.

How will the department develop a wolf post-recovery plan?

The department will propose development of the plan using the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process. This involves preparing a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will be available for public review. This statement will evaluate actions, alternatives, and impacts related to long-term wolf conservation and management.

The first step of the SEPA process involves scoping, which helps us determine proposed actions, alternatives, and impacts to be discussed in the impact statement. Scoping improves decisions and encourages collaboration, cooperation, and early resolution of potential conflicts. It is intended to narrow the impact statement to the relevant issues.

Scoping is a public process and we encourage everyone to provide input.

How can I provide my input?

Please submit comments in one of the following ways:

Comments can be submitted online (our preferred method for receiving comments).

Mail a written comment to:

Lisa Wood
SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, WDFW Habitat Program, Protection Division
P.O. Box 43200
Olympia, WA 98504

We are unable to accept or record verbal comments. The deadline for submitting comments is Nov. 1, 2019 at 5:00 pm.

What is the time frame for this effort?

Right now, we’re in the scoping phase for this project. We plan to review comments, write a draft environmental impact statement, and hold more public open houses once the draft environmental impact statement is released. The final plan is expected to be completed in 2021.