Washington has a statewide wolf conservation and management plan — for the most part.
Inside the 300-page document, all sorts of plans and and policies and contingencies for dealing with wolves everywhere from Neah Bay to The Narrows on the Grande Ronde.
The major exception is that the species doesn’t actually have to occur across all of its old range in the Evergreen State to be considered fully recovered.
That was the Department of Fish & Wildlife’s interpretation of the “significant portion of its range” clause in the Washington Administrative Codes’ classification of rare wildlife as either endangered, threatened or sensitive.
A SCREEN GRAB FROM A VIDEO POSTED TO YOUTUBE BY WDFW SHOWS ONE OF THREE WOLVES CAUGHT ON A TRAIL CAM ROAMING THE "WEDGE" OF NORTHERN STEVENS COUNTY, WASH., IN LATE JANUARY. (WDFW)
Under the plan the agency put forth, if 15 breeding pairs in certain numbers and places establish themselves for three straight years from, say, just the crest of the Cascades east to the Idaho line, that will be good enough for delisting from state protections and eventual management of Canis lupus as a big game species.
The Fish & Wildlife Commission signed off on the concept.
It was a middle-ground compromise.
Some wolf advocates had basically wanted to require that Washington have wolves all the way to the Pacific beaches. That would return them to almost all of their pre-European settlement range and re-establish them in Olympic National Park. It would also have likely dragged out the number of years needed to reach recovery goals and raised the specter of translocating animals here from other parts of the state — a double-edged sword for hunters.
Some hunters, ranchers, local governments and legislators have suggested dealing with wolves in the eastern third of the state separately from the rest of Washington. That would put less pressure on the Northeast and Southeast corners’ deer and elk herds as that recovery region waits for the two zones in the Cascades to meet numerical goals before statewide delisting can occur.
Now, nearly four months after it approved the plan, the commission is asking the department to analyze what changes would need to be made to the governing WAC for it to consider the latter idea, the regional listing/delisting of wolves.
THE REQUEST CAME AT THE TAIL END OF the commission’s March 9-10 meeting from vice chairman Gary Douvia who lives in far Eastern Washington, that part of the state where wolves were federally delisted last spring and where there’s also a distinct possibility that, by the end of 2012, there could be as many as seven breeding pairs alone.
True, not every pack breeds every season nor produces at least two pups that survive to the end of the year — standard conventions for defining “successful breeding pairs,” the keystone of recovery formulation — but the state management plan calls for at least four pairs for three consecutive years in Douvia’s third of the state.
(It’s likely that the three required “at large” packs will also be here because of its proximity to Idaho, Oregon, Montana and BC wolves.)
As it stands, at the end of 2011 there were two confirmed breeding pairs in Douvia’s greater neighborhood — Diamond and Smackout — plus another known pack, Salmo.
And with WDFW ramping up its wolf work this winter and spring, there are now strong indications that packs are also living in the upper Touchet drainage of the Blue Mountains, the “Wedge” of northern Stevens County, the Boulder Creek area of Ferry County, and the Ruby Creek area between Colville and Ione.
It’s also possible there is at least one on the Colville Reservation.
WDFW MAP SHOWING CONFIRMED AND SUSPECTED PACKS AS OF MID-MARCH 2012 AS WELL AS THE OUTLINES OF THE STATE'S THREE RECOVERY ZONES. (WDFW)
Douvia rated the importance and urgency of his request as “high.” It was seconded by Larry Carpenter of Mt. Vernon.
After about 10 to 12 minutes of discussion, a voice vote of 8-1 formally put the subject on WDFW Director Phil Anderson’s to-do list.
IN A PHONE CALL EARLIER TODAY Anderson characterized the nine-member citizen panel’s question as “doing their homework” and “a very preliminary step … to see what their options are.”
“I think they’re trying to look around a bit — they’re seeing very dissimilar growth rates — to see if they can do anything about that in terms of the WAC.”
Under the law, WAC 232-12-297, the commission was given the authority to classify how much protection Washington’s species are afforded, but in the case of wolves, at the present time it doesn’t have much say outside of the eastern third of the state. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is still in charge of the western two thirds where the species remains on the federal endangered species list.
Anderson says that he’s working with the state Attorney General’s office to see whether the commission can do anything “within the statute” in the eastern third.
Their findings will be presented at the April 13-14 meeting.
In the meanwhile, he acknowledges that the commission’s request may get some reaction as it is announced in an upcoming press release.
“When people see it on the agenda, particularly as close to the commission’s decision on the management plan as this, there will be attention paid for sure from different perspectives,” Anderson says.
As both the commission and WDFW try to be proactive on wolf management and show stockmen and hunters they are up to the task of handling the species, they must be sure not to make hasty decisions or mistakes that could result in lawsuits.
That has, of course, occurred to the folks in charge.
During a working teleconference on the commission’s Wolf Position Statement two weeks ago, Anderson chimed in to state his “biggest fear: we manage wolves in federal or state court.”
On the flip side, as Douvia later responded, “We don’t have to go too fast, but we can’t go too slow.”