Category Archives: Wolf News

WA FWC Chairwoman Talks Wolf Plan; Vote Slated For Saturday

Some days are more surreal than others. Take the recent one where I found myself emailing at the same time with two men on polar opposites of the wolf issue in Washington.

Well, subarctic opposites at the very least — like Patagonia and the Yukon Territory.

One is the head of a regional conservation organization that has been heavily involved in trying to aid Canis lupus recovery in the Evergreen State.

The other is a veteran hook-and-bullet journalist who will remind you that the very term “conservation” — and the wealth of critters we have around today — began with hunters.

I won’t even open the Pandora’s box of their tree-sitting, gun-toting, carbon-sequestering, liberal-bashing politics, but they actually have more in common than either would be comfortable admitting publicly (and probably even off the record).

Both want lots of critters (some much more so than others) and lots of habitat for them, both are leery of a proposal to expand North Cascades National Park, both wear hunter orange come fall, neither filled their elk tag this season, and both were impressed with the story of Kari Hirschberger, the Methow Valley woman who in mid-September was confronted and followed by two adult wolves while scouting for High Buck season — an unnerving encounter that nonetheless ended without any shots fired though they probably should have been for the safety of all parties.

And while the outcome the two men hope for is different, they’ll both be watching the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission very closely later this week as it decides on a final wolf management plan/environmental impact statement.

The seven-member panel will discuss the 521-page document amongst themselves this Saturday morning and then come to a decision.

That’s what it says on their agenda anyway.

The day before I traded emails with the above gents, I was on the phone with Miranda Wecker, chairwoman of the commission. She hesitated to predict what her fellow members would do, and sounded like she still had more questions than answers about the plan herself.

“We understand the significance of the issue,” Wecker said, then added, “There are reasons we should go forward and vote, and there are reasons that give us pause to accept this plan given the degree of concern in the hunter and livestock-producer communities.”

IT’S BEEN A LONG FIVE YEARS, ONE MONTH AND 27 DAYS since Fish & Wildlife put out a call for nominees to join “a citizen working group that will guide the department in developing a conservation and management plan for gray wolves in Washington.”

Seventeen people representing a wide spectrum of interests — ranchers, sportsmen, biologists, wolf advocates, among others — joined up and went to work.

Since then dozens of meetings have been held across the state, 43 peer reviewers have picked through draft plans, scores of he said-she said newspaper articles have appeared, hundreds of passionate speeches have been made by both sides, and tens of thousands of emails and form letters have flooded Olympia.

Also showing up in the state, at least five wolf packs, two in the Cascades, three in Northeast Washington.

Crossing the borders right behind the wild canids, all the angst, extraordinary hate and star-struck sentimentalities that have brewed in the Northern Rockies since wolves began filtering back into Northwest Montana in the 1980s and the Feds brought five and a half dozen from BC and Alberta into Central Idaho and Yellowstone in the mid-1990s.

There are now pro Washington wolf pages and anti Washington wolf sites. A “member” of the Lookout Pack tweets while an “alpha male” prowls a hunters’ forum. Every time WDFW posts something wolfish on its Facebook page, both sides rush in with foaming torrents of words.

    Cuddle and coddle!


    My science!

    My science!

    You suck!

    You blow!

Almost completely drowned out, voices of reason, sanity and moderation.

For her part, Wecker said she didn’t follow development of the draft plan very closely, though some members attended some meetings and reported back.

But last summer, as the group received the final recommendations from WDFW staff, the debate was right in front of them. Four public meetings later, they’re fully engaged.

“It’s by far the most contentious issue since I’ve been on the commission,” said Wecker, who was appointed in May 2005. “People feel passionately on both sides. There are those who believe they were extirpated for a good reason. And there are those who see them as important and part of the wilderness. There’s so much uncertainty, such different viewpoints. It’s the toughest one we’ve ever had to deal with.”

ONE QUESTION WECKER HAS IS, how will wolves do in Washington. It’s the $64,000 question: As much work as has gone into it, there’s no clear answer — computer modeling can only tell us so much at this early stage.

After diving into the issue in summer 2008 (when the first confirmed pack in 70 years took up residence in the Methow Valley, where I deer hunt) and talking with a number of real experts, I had begun to wonder whether wolves would amount to much in Washington. The habitat and prey availability just isn’t what it is in Idaho, western Montana and Northwest Wyoming.

The state represents the verge of woodland caribou and sea-run sockeye salmon country. Critters at the edge of their range don’t do as well as in their core. Washington is also the second most densely populated in the West with a vast megalopolis on one side and an equally vast, treeless, agland plateau on the other, neither of which work well for wolves.

But wolves have a way of surprising you. In the space of one week last summer, two new packs were confirmed in Washington, one just 97.9 road miles east of Fifth & James, and the latest GPS data shows that that footloose member of Northeast Oregon’s Imnaha clan, OR-7, is just a few hard days’ travel from California.

Or Nevada.

Or, heck, Washington.

Also unclear for Wecker: how in these money-tight times Washington will find the resources to manage the species and its baggage. WDFW has largely been paying for its wolf work so far through federal grants and vanity-plate sales, but is now trying to shake more money out of the Legislature.

If the history of wolves and lawsuit-happy organizations in the Northern Rockies is any indication, to scientifically justify controlling their numbers, you must be able to quantify how much game they’re chewing up and that will require funding herd surveys and studies.

And if history is another indication, wolves will eventually gnaw on sheep and cattle, and when they do it often enough, they will have to be shot and killed — 1,517 were taken out in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming between 1986 and the end of 2010 — and checks will have to be written to ranchers for the depredations.

As for a headcount, the latest minimum estimate for Washington is somewhere around 25 to 30 adults and yearlings — pup numbers won’t be out till next year — but some hunters feel there are more, far more, and they’ve been recording their observations.

“If we don’t accurately count them, we’ll be behind the curve,” said Wecker. “That’s what many are pointing at — they don’t trust us to walk the walk, to carry out the management plan.”

She understands that, but said that the commission feels the plan is a very important tool for the agency to have.

“Delisting is in everyone’s interest,” she said.

Hanging out there is the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision about whether wolves in the western two thirds of the state are part of the recovered population in the Northern Rockies, which was taken off the Endangered Species Act list last spring, or their own distinct group that requires continued Federal protection.

Originally that call was to be made at the end of 2011, but it has since been pushed back to late winter 2012, according to USFWS spokeswoman Joan Jewett.

Wecker said that WDFW staffers who’ve talked with the Feds have gotten the impression that if their plan is sound, the government is more likely to give the state day-to-day control.

“We want that authority,” she said. “As long as they are listed, we have no authority. We’d like to see the Federal government trust us and hand over management. If there’s no plan, it’s hard to imagine them handing it over to us.”

THE GOAL IS ALSO TO GIVE WDFW what it needs to deal with wolf-ungulate and wolf-livestock conflicts.

“We want the agency to have management flexibility,” Wecker said.

The nut of the final plan is that the benchmark for state delisting — and a gateway to potential future hunts — is at least 15 breeding pairs over three consecutive years in three regions: five in the eastern third of the state, four in the North Cascades, six in the elk-rich Southern Cascades/Southwest Washington/Olympics.

According to the scientists, 15 is the minimum needed to ensure recovery, but actually would mean as many as 23 packs and from 97 to 361 animals total.

No matter how many times the claim is repeated, neither WDFW nor USFWS are planning on reintroducing the native species, though translocation could be used to move them around inside the state to reach recovery goals — an expensive, time-consuming, litigious and divisive step.

But as they listened to public comment during their summer and fall meetings, commissioners began asking about potential revisions, so at their November confab WDFW staff came back with some tweaks that fell “within the bounds” of the recommended plan.

Rocky Beach, WDFW’s Wildlife Diversity Division manager, explained to me why they couldn’t just scrap the plan and take up calls from some hunters, cattle interests and rural counties to halve distribution numbers and lessen protections.

“Going any further than that would require a separate environmental impact statement,” he said, adding that would take months — three alone for public comment.

“Anything more major than that opens them up for lawsuits,” adds spokeswoman Madonna Luers.

As it stands, among the options prepared for the commission, one would change distribution numbers to initiate state delisting from the five-four-six formula to four-four-four-plus three anywhere in the state “and/or 18 breeding pairs (4/4/4/6) in any single year.”

Again, wolves will surprise you, but for hunters that represents an easier benchmark to meet in areas where it’s likely to take longer for the animals to spread — south of I-90 and west of I-82.

Enhanced lethal-take provisions for livestock operators grazing stock on public ground were also drawn up, as were more definitive resolutions to wolf-game conflicts.

WECKER’S HUSBAND HAD JUST KILLED AN ELK in the Willapa Hills when we spoke. She pointed out that all seven commissioners fish and five hunt (there are nine positions on the commission, but two are currently unfilled), and she insisted that WDFW is “still enthusiastic” about us and our tradition.

“We know (wolves) can impact prey species and hunting opportunities … and we care about maintaining hunting opportunities,” she told me.

She termed claims that the agency is turning its back on sportsmen these days “crazy,” and added, “The commission understands the impact of hunter conservation in support of the department. No question about it. It’s at the heart of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.”

Still, Wecker said the commission has tried to be open minded and listened to both sides.

“I’ve read the plan, I’ve read the many, many emails we’ve received,” she said. “I think there’s no more information that will be new before the vote. It’s time to distill, mull over, consider the options to come to a personal decision about what is the right thing to do. There will be more conversation between the commissioners. Expect an hour, two-hour conversation amongst ourselves in public to sort through what we think. We’ll be thinking about it right up to the vote. I don’t think things are settled and clear for everyone.”

Hard to say what they will do, but one state staffer involved in the process hazarded a guess that if anything, they’d do minor tweaks that would help expedite delisting and response to livestock depredations.

Near the end of our conversation, Wecker said that the “take-home message” is that while how well wolves will do in Washington is unclear, WDFW has to do a good job managing the social tolerances.

“That’s a practical matter. Talk is cheap. We know we’ve got to perform on the ground where it matters,” she said.

Editor’s note: Previously this article stated that Washington was at the edge of Virginia whitetail deer range. However, a WDFW deer specialist tells me that the state’s whitetails are a “separate subspecies called the Northwest White-tailed deer which range from eastern Oregon north to B.C. southeast into NW Montana and north and north-central Idaho which kind of puts eastern Washington in the center or west center of the NW whitetails’ range.”

9th Circuit Court Hears Wolf Delisting Arguments

As the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission mulls the state’s final proposed wolf management plan in the lead up to its scheduled December decision, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife tracks footloose OR-7 in the southern Cascades by satellite, and hunters in the Northern Rockies pursue wolves, a California courtroom was the scene of oral arguments today over last spring’s delisting of Canis lupus in the region.

An attorney for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and others presented a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with arguments that there is precedent for Congress to legislatively strip wolves of Federal protection in eastern swaths of Washington and Oregon, and all of Montana and Idaho, a move which led to the latter two states opening wolf seasons.

Through Nov. 17, 107 wolves have been killed in Idaho, including 20 in the Panhandle zone. Trapping seasons begin Nov. 15.

The court is hearing the case after U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy’s August ruling basically in favor of state management was appealed.

Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs, says that Congress “clearly overstepped” its authority and said it was a “terrible precedent that must be overturned.”

RMEF president and CEO David Allen notes that if CBD and others lose, they could take the case to the Supreme Court.

“But I’m hoping that a Congressional act, two courtroom defeats and an American public that is clearly tired of all this legal wrangling will encourage our opponents to give up — and cede responsible wolf management and control to conservation professionals in each state.”

Here’s a link to an AP story on today’s arguments.

The Elk Foundation is also supporting ODFW’s wolf management authority in a separate case in an Oregon court, and recently sent a letter to WDFW on its plan.

In it, RMEF said it “strongly recommends eliminating the three year waiting period after the wolf population has reached the delisting criteria before the wolf management plan can be implemented.”

Under the current plan, to meet state recovery goals, a certain number of breeding pairs must exist for three straight years in three different zones.

For more from RMEF’s letter, go here.


Colville Tribes Speak Out At Spokane Wolf Meeting

The Fish & Wildlife Commission’s fourth of four meetings on WDFW’s proposed final wolf management plan in Spokane yesterday yielded another glimpse into largely overlooked — or at least under reported — tribal positions on wolf recovery in Washington.

If you’ve watched this blog this past July, you got a taste for Colville Confederated Tribes thinking when biologists there confirmed that canid scat found on their sprawling Northeast Washington reservation last winter was indeed wolf poop.

Though there were no resident packs there at the time and the scat was most likely left by a transient wolf or wolves, Natural Resources Department manager Joe Peone told us, “Our priority for the Colville Tribes is to provide sustenance for our members.”

He reiterated that premise on Thursday in Spokane.

Reported the Associated Press‘s Nicholas K. Geranois:

The tribes told members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on Thursday that a plan to restore at least five breeding pairs of wolves in Eastern Washington has the potential to reduce herds of elk, deer and moose on its reservation.

Tribal members harvest up to 1,000 deer, 400 elk and 50 moose each year, and worry a large increase in the number of wolves will increase competition for the animals.

The tribe wants to ensure the state wolf management plan provides a balance between the needs of wolves and hunters, Peone said.

It’s a hot-button topic amongst nontribal hunters and state game wardens, but through treaties and court decisions, a couple dozen tribes have off-reservation hunting rights in the state, including on state and national forest lands in a thick swath of Washington that basically cuts diagonally from Neah Bay to Heller Bar. That means that WDFW and tribal natural resources departments are managing and policing the same herds for their own constituents.

However, as the state’s developed its recovery plan for Canis lupus, to a degree input from the tribes has been missing.

Which is not to say they have been excluded.

As Jeff Holmes and I reported in the October 2011 issue of Northwest Sportsman, WDFW insists that all tribes “were invited to join the process in 2007. (In January 2010, the Makah Tribal Council submitted an eight-page comment on the draft management plan, the Muckleshoot Tribal Wildlife Program a five-page letter.)”

And you can find these back-and-forths in the plan:

Comment: Wolves have a cultural role for our tribe; however,the ungulate populations that our tribal members rely on for subsistence are of significantly higher priority. Therefore, we don’t want wolves in our area.

WDFW response: As mentioned in Chapter 2 of the plan, wolf management may vary among tribes in the state.

Comment: Concerned that wolves could be adversely affected by tribal hunting following removal from the federal Endangered Species Act.

WDFW response: While wolves are federally listed in Washington, tribes are subject to restrictions under the federal Endangered Species Act. After federal delisting, tribes may choose to develop their own management plans and regulations regarding wolves. These may or may not be consistent with the state wolf plan. If issues were to arise over inconsistencies, they would be discussed in government-to-government consultations between WDFW and the tribes.

Comment: WDFW made very little effort to include tribal participation in developing the plan. The only involvement the tribes had was through the Wolf Interagency Committee, which has only had 2 meetings over the past 2.5 years, and little participation in developing the plan. It would have been appropriate for the tribes to participate in developing the plan given their co-manager role.

WDFW response: The Wolf Working Group is a citizen advisory group, whereas Washington state government, including WDFW, works with tribes on a government to government basis. Tribes were asked to provide peer review and to comment on the draft plan, and some did so. Tribes can also develop their own wolf management plans for tribal lands.

These days tribes outside that above-mentioned swath — the Colville and Kalispell reservations fall outside it but the Colville have rights to hunt the “North Half” between their reservation and the Canadian border — are increasingly asserting their role in managing fish and wildlife.

Holmes, who reported that a tribal biologist with the Kalispels, in extreme Northeast Washington, said, “We were not invited” to wolf plan discussions, detailed how the tribe is working on a host of wildlife and wolf projects in Pend Oreille County and elsewhere in their 2-million-acre ceded area:

Whatever the disconnect, the Kalispels are now engaged in the wolf issue, seeking to document them and other predators throughout the Selkirks.

“At this point, most of our work is geared toward locating, photographing and collecting DNA evidence via hair snag from lynx, fisher, grizzly and black bear, and other predators,” said (Bart) George. “The tribe was also recently invited by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to join a genetic profiling project of the gray wolf to determine which subspecies lived where.”

“At the state level, one important thing we can do to influence wolf management at this point,”George added, as we walked into a waft of foul stench nearing the bait of pike and beef blood at the first set, “is to encourage and conduct our own ungulate research to find out more specifically, you know,what are wolves doing to the herds? WDFW can’t follow every lead. No one has that kind of time and money,but we need to know what we’ve got up here and how much their predation is affecting herds. Two thirds of Pend Oreille County has had no official howling surveys conducted, and there are frequent reports of wolves from the Canadian border all the way Scotia Road south of Newport.”

Back at the Spokane meeting, commissioners heard more of the now familiar comments on wolves. Here are links to stories:

KXLY, Wolf Controversy in Spokane

Spokane Spokesman-Review, Panel considers wolf plan

Hunters also provided testimony, some of which can be seen here.

This was the fourth of four meetings before the Fish & Wildlife Commission. WDFW has held numerous meetings with the public and its Wolf Working Group since 2007. The commission is “expected to take action on the plan” at its upcoming December meeting.

OR-7 Crosses Cascade Crest; First Known Wolf In Western Oregon In 65 Years

We heard a rumor last week that signals from a wolf collar had been picked up around Lemolo Lake in Oregon’s Cascades, and today a story by Mark Freeman of the Medford Mail-Tribune confirms that OR-7 has shown up in the upper Umpqua River basin as of last Thursday.

The outdoor reporter adds that the 2-year-old male is “the first confirmed wolf in Western Oregon in 65 years.”

UPDATE, Nov. 3, 2011: In an article today, Freeman adds more about the wolf’s recent movements:

The 2-year-old collared male that late Thursday became the first confirmed wolf west of the Cascade crest doubled back across the divide into Klamath County on Monday. On Tuesday, it returned to Douglas County and moved a bit south from where it was this past weekend, authorities said.

The animal since has moved slightly farther south but is still in eastern Douglas County, said Michelle Dennehy, Wildlife Division spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The wolf, dubbed OR-07, has a collar that sends a satellite reading every six hours, but the pings only register when the collar has good satellite reception, Dennehy said. Dennehy said the agency will not divulge exact GPS readings because the wolf is a protected species.

Freeman reports that the last known wolf in Western Oregon was killed in Douglas County in 1946.

Where is OR-7 headed? Good question.

“It’s the first one in modern times to go in that direction, and he’s really traveling,” ODFW wolf program coordinator Russ Morgan told the reporter. “He could turn around and go back. He could go to California or Idaho. There’s no way to predict it.”

It’s already put a lot of miles on its paws, at least 250 miles since dispersing from Northeast Oregon’s Imnana Pack Sept. 10 and traveling through Baker, Grant, Harney, Crook, Deschutes and Lake Counties.

You can add Klamath County to that itinerary. A new map from ODFW shows its progress through the county and state over the last 48 days.


The wolves known as OR-3 and OR-5 have also dispersed from the Imnaha Pack, the former to the Ochoco Mountains, the latter to Washington’s Blue Mountains, though it hasn’t been picked up on radar for months.

In late January 2009, a possible wolf was spotted in the Suttle Lake area near Santiam Pass.

As for wolves west of Washington’s Cascade Crest, it’s believed that a second-generation pet wolf released in extreme southern British Columbia was partially responsible for a flurry of sightings in the Hozomeen area of upper Ross Lake in the early 1990s. And another animal captured by state biologists near the town of Glacier west of Mt. Baker in winter 1992 actually was somebody’s misidentified dog, according to an amusing anecdote in Wolfer, the book by former federal wolf trapper and biologist Carter Niemeyer.

That said, WDFW’s draft wolf management plan indicates that two wolves used the Hozomeen area in 2010 and winter 2011. And the agency’s Grizzly Bear and Gray Wolf Investigations In Washington State 1994-1995 lists a handful of “confirmed” encounters in counties west of the crest between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s.

Fish & Wildlife Commission Wolf Meeting This Thursday In Spokane


A Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission work session on a proposed state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan will be held Nov. 3 in Spokane, followed by a meeting Nov. 4 on other issues.

The citizen commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), will hold both meetings at the Ramada Spokane Airport hotel, 8909 W. Airport Drive, in Spokane. The commission’s regular November meeting had previously been scheduled in Olympia.

At the Nov. 3 work session, which is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., the commission will resume its discussion about the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan recommended for approval by WDFW. Public comments will be accepted during the afternoon portion of the meeting.

The recommended plan is designed to guide state management efforts as wolves re-establish a sustainable breeding population in the state. The plan is available online at .

The commission is expected to take action on the plan in December.

At the meeting on Nov. 4, the commission is scheduled to take action to amend existing restrictions on importation of harvested wildlife from states known to harbor chronic wasting disease (CWD) in wildlife populations. The proposed change would add Maryland and Minnesota to the list of states with CWD. The restrictions are aimed at protecting Washington’s native deer, elk and moose populations.

In other business, the commission is scheduled to consider approval of a proposed acquisition of 7,711 acres in Kittitas County and hear a briefing from WDFW staff on criteria for setting population objectives for deer and elk.

The Nov. 4 meeting will open to the public at 9 a.m. Initially, the commission’s November regular meeting was scheduled to run Nov. 4-5, but the commission now expects to conclude its business on Friday and not meet on Saturday, Nov. 5.

An agenda for the meeting will be posted on the commission’s website at .

OR, WA Wolf Update; ODFW Posts New Pack Location Map

As state lawyers argue in court that the stay of execution for two members of the livestock-killing Imnaha Pack should be lifted, a new map showing the expanding range of wolf packs in Oregon was released this week.

While ODFW’s official tally is four packs across Northeast Oregon, including one discovered just recently, the map shows the location of a fifth group, though they’re identified only as “N. Umatilla River Wolves.”

Posted on the agency’s main wolf page, the jpeg dated Oct. 25, 2011 also shows boundaries for the Imnaha and Wenaha Packs and rough locations for the Walla Walla Pack and new Snake River Pack.


Earlier this week, ODFW reported it thinks there are a minimum of 23 wolves in the state — four in Imnaha, six in Walla Walla, five in Snake River, four in Wenaha, two in the North Umatilla group plus two that dispersed to Central Oregon — and says it’s “very likely” there are more than that.

Meanwhile, the Blue Mountain Eagle reported on a brief filed in the Oregon Court of Appeals by the state Department of Justice:

The state argues that killing two wolves “will not cause irreparable harm to the gray wolf population in Oregon, and, in fact, will aid in the recovery of the species…,” according to the brief.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for Center for Biological Diversity, one of the three conservation groups, this morning said they don’t see an exemption in state law that allows the state to kill wolves.

“There’s really no evidence that killing wolves increases tolerance. In fact, there are studies that show it doesn’t increase tolerance, he said “The wolf population is too small to take these kinds of killings.”

The state counts 14 wolves in Oregon and under the management plan is required to treat them as endangered until at least four breeding pairs are established in Eastern Oregon for three consecutive years.

“While the population continues to be endangered, petitioners have not demonstrated that the loss of two wolves from the Imnaha pack will have a detrimental effect on the species as a whole,” the state argues.

The state argues that the wildlife agency doesn’t exceed its authority under the state Endangered Species Act by killing problem wolves. As long as removing wolves linked to livestock losses is “in furtherance of the conservation goals of the Endangered Species Act and is necessary for the recovery of the species of the whole,” the department is on solid legal ground, the brief states.

The state argues the conservationists’ lawsuit would not likely prevail on its merits and should be dismissed. Arguments have yet to be scheduled.

On Wednesday, the Oregon Hunters Association filed an amicus brief supporting ODFW’s management and says it’s in favor of removing the two members of the Imnaha Pack.

“The Oregon Hunters Association has never welcomed the immigration of imported Canadian gray wolves to Oregon,” said the organization’s statewide coordinator Duane Dungannon in a press release, “and we have insisted that OHA be at the table in wolf management discussions since the first wolf crossed our borders. OHA will continue to advocate for responsible management of wolves as authorized in the state’s wolf plan to protect the interests of Oregon’s wildlife and domestic animals.”

While Oregon has a wolf management plan to work off of, Washington is still coming up with one, and it was among the topics of discussion at the Cattle Producers of Washington’s annual meeting a week ago in Moses Lake, according to Capital Press, a farmer-and-rancher-oriented news service.

Dan Wheat, who has been covering wolves and ag producer issues, characterized it as full of “sharp comments,” some of which were directed at a state Fish & Wildlife Commissioners who attended the gathering, Chuck Perry.

Perry and fellow members of the citizen panel will undoubtedly hear more comments during their Nov. 3 wolf meeting, which has been moved from Olympia to Spokane.

And in other Washington wolf news, maybe this has already been officially reported (and it’s not really a surprise), but for the record, the female wolf that WDFW captured in the Central Cascades and took genetic samples from in early summer is related to the Lookout Pack of North-central Washington.

“The lab report that we received regarding the Teanaway wolf stated that based on her close genetic relatedness with the two Lookout wolves tested in 2008 (i.e., the breeding pair) and her younger age than them, she is therefore ‘likely an offspring/descendant’ of them.  Thus, she’s probably a daughter,” reports Gary Wiles, a WDFW biologist.

Where Oregon’s wolves are the progeny of packs reintroduced in Central Idaho in the mid-1990s, most of Washington’s are crossing the border from BC or coming from naturally reestablishing packs in the Northwest Montana/North Idaho recovery area.


OR, WA Wolves In The News

Hunters helped the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife track down a new wolf pack in Wallowa County’s Snake River Wildlife Management Unit, the state’s fourth.

After receiving reports and trail camera photographs, biologists surveyed the area last week and found tracks from at least five different wolves including one pup, according to the agency.

While many sportsmen are not happy with the expansion of wolves into the Northwest from their Canadian and Rocky Mountain strongholds, ODFW wolf program coordinator Russ Morgan in La Grande pointed out, “These public wolf reports from Oregon’s outdoor enthusiasts really help us target our survey efforts and make the best use of limited resources.”

ODFW also got a radio collar around one of two pups of the Walla Walla Pack in Umatilla County, near the Washington border, last week.

And the agency reports that two wolves from the troublesome Imnaha Pack, also of Wallowa County, have dispersed into Central Oregon.

Over just the past six weeks, one known as OR-7 traveled through Baker, Grant, Harney, Crook and Deschutes Counties and was last documented in northern Lake County.

The other, OR-3, was in the Ochoco Mountains as of late September.

ODFW says that a total of four wolves have dispersed from Northeast Oregon, including one that traveled into Washington’s Blue Mountains last winter but hasn’t been heard from since, though there were hunter reports from above Dayton in late summer.

Since early July sportsmen have also been keeping a running tally of wolf sightings around the Evergreen State, and while the total varies considerably from WDFW’s official numbers, it includes one slightly unnerving encounter between a woman scouting in mid-September for the High Buck Hunt and two uncollared wolves and possibly a third near the head of a 4×5 which led WDFW and the USFS to put up trail cameras on Sawtooth Ridge between Stehekin and the upper Twisp River. The devices captured images of an uncollared wolf or wolves, and state biologists concluded:

What was reported as a den site turned out to be most likely a marmot hole, definitely too small for wolves and in an extremely unlikely spot (in alpine habitat at about 7,000 feet) for denning. Evidence at the site suggests animals were at the site for a few days with a deer kill, but were not there for an extended time as would be expected at a rendezvous site.  The site is within the known territory of the Lookout Pack.  There was no mention of pups in the observer’s report, nor was there any evidence of pups of the year on site.  The observer most likely ran into the 2-3 adult members believed to be left in the Lookout Pack that were with the remains of a recent kill and were probably somewhat defensive of the carcass, hence the bold behavior described by the reporting party.  One scat sample was obtained to collect DNA and hopefully answer the question about whether these are indeed the Lookout animals.

Elsewhere in Washington, the Fish & Wildlife Commission moved their upcoming public wolf meeting from Olympia to Spokane. It’s slated to begin at 9 a.m. on Nov. 3 at the Ramada Spokane Airport hotel, 8909 W. Airport Drive. Comments will be taken in the afternoon, and if attendance at the FWC’s last wolf meeting is any indication, you’ll want to sign up early to be heard.

And last week WDFW denied a petition from the Okanogan County Commission to delist gray wolves as state endangered species and classify them as a deleterious exotic species. Earlier this month, the department was also petitioned by the Washington Cattlemen’s Association and Hunter Heritage Council to strip packs in the eastern third of the Evergreen State of state protections and declare them game species. The state has 60 days to respond.

Meanwhile, Idaho hunters have killed 75 wolves through Oct. 24, including 24 in units bordering Washington and Oregon. Montana hunters have killed 22 through the same date. All seasons except one remain open.

FWC Moves Nov. 3 Wolf Meeting Across State


A Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission work session on a proposed state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan will be held Nov. 3 in Spokane, followed by a meeting Nov. 4 on other issues.

The citizen commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), will hold both meetings at the Ramada Spokane Airport hotel, 8909 W. Airport Drive, in Spokane. The commission’s regular November meeting had previously been scheduled in Olympia.

At the Nov. 3 work session, which is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., the commission will resume its discussion about the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan recommended for approval by WDFW. Public comments will be accepted during the afternoon portion of the meeting.

The recommended plan is designed to guide state management efforts as wolves re-establish a sustainable breeding population in the state. The plan is available online at .

The commission is expected to take action on the plan in December.

At the meeting on Nov. 4, the commission is scheduled to take action to amend existing restrictions on importation of harvested wildlife from states known to harbor chronic wasting disease (CWD) in wildlife populations. The proposed change would add Maryland and Minnesota to the list of states with CWD. The restrictions are aimed at protecting Washington’s native deer, elk and moose populations.

In other business, the commission is scheduled to consider approval of a proposed acquisition of 7,711 acres in Kittitas County and hear a briefing from WDFW staff on criteria for setting population objectives for deer and elk.

The Nov. 4 meeting will open to the public at 9 a.m. Initially, the commission’s November regular meeting was scheduled to run Nov. 4-5, but the commission now expects to conclude its business on Friday and not meet on Saturday, Nov. 5.

An agenda for the meeting will be posted on the commission’s website at .

Cattlemen, Hunter Group File Wolf Delisting Petition

UPDATED 9:00 A.M., OCT. 6, 2011

The day before the third of four public comment meetings on Washington’s proposed wolf management plan and just two months before the Fish & Wildlife Commission is slated to vote on the 516-page document, a pair of groups filed a petition asking that packs in the eastern third of the Evergreen State be stripped of state protections.

The Associated Press also says that the Washington Cattlemen’s Association and Hunters Heritage Council want wolves — presumably in the above area — to be given big game status, a prelude to hunting the species.

That’s a big leap from what’s in the current recommended management plan, which delists wolves when they meet statewide benchmarks — 15 breeding pairs occurring in specific numbers across three recovery zones for three consecutive years.

Right now in Washington, there are only five confirmed packs, three or four of which bred this year. Three of the five occur in the state’s eastern third, but it’s also suspected that there is another pack in the Blue Mountains near Dayton, and probable that hunters will report even more as hunting seasons continue through fall (for a roundup of wolf news, see hunting articles in the October issue of Northwest Sportsman).

AP quotes Mark Pidgeon of HHC as saying, “Both of our organizations support wolf recovery, but efforts are required to insure that wolf populations don’t become so large that the animals become a menace and there is a public backlash against their presence as there is with cougars in some areas of the state.”

Some worry that the Evergreen State will also see the seemingly unending litigation that held up state management in the Northern Rockies and which simultaneously allowed wolf populations to grow well past recovery benchmarks.

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife officials were largely unavailable Wednesday afternoon as they prepared deep into the evening for the commission meeting, but in a voice message left before it began on Thursday morning, Gary Wiles, a biologist at WDFW’s Olympia office, acknowledged that the agency had received the petition.

“‘We’ll be evaluating and responding to it in the 60-day period we have to do so,'” Wiles said threatened and endangered species program manager Harriet Allen told him.

WDFW and stakeholders known as the Wolf Working Group have worked on coming up with a management plan since 2007. The state has received tens of thousands of comments during the process. And Jack Field of the Cattlemen’s and five other members of the working group previously filed additional comments on the plan in late June. Those included a population cap.

The new petition is also an echo of comments made by state Department of Natural Resources biologist Scott Fisher. He suggested that rather than basing recovery goals on packs occurring across most of Washington, base it on populations in just the eastern third of the state, the area they’re now federally delisted and where packs from Idaho, Oregon and BC are expanding into.

Asked last month about their position on the plan, Wanda Clifford, executive director of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, a 60-year-old conservation group in Spokane, said, “The council feels that 15 breeding pairs are too many. We would also like to see that they delist areas as they reach the agreed limit and take off the ‘three year wait to see if they can maintain.’ We recognize that wolves are here to stay and support a management plan for control as soon as possible.”

Wolves are federally delisted in the eastern third of Washington but remain on the endangered species list as threatened in the Cascades and westside. Under state law, they’re listed as endangered throughout Washington.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is also mulling whether wolves in the western two-thirds of the state, such as the Lookout and Teanaway Packs, should be included in the delisted Northern Rocky Mountains population, or be its own distinct segment. A decision is expected by the end of this year.

As for the wolf hunts going on in areas the species was delisted last spring, next door in Idaho, a total of 37 wolves have been taken through Oct. 5 in that state’s second wolf hunting season. Eight have been killed in hunting zones bordering Washington. Seasons began Aug. 30 and while some areas are limited by quota, others run through March 31.

Another 18 have been harvested in Montana through Oct. 5 as well; one zone where wolf hunting is controlled under a quota system closes today.

Proposed Cuts Would Hack ‘Meat And Bone’ From WDFW Budget

(UPDATED SEPT. 29, 2011)

Westside salmon anglers and shell fishermen stand to lose big unless Washington lawmakers can patch up the budget over the coming months.

With the proposed closure of two state hatcheries and reduced operations at a third, 8.3 million fewer hatchery Chinook smolts would be produced annually for ocean, bay and Puget Sound fisheries under the most savage of cuts that the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has drawn up at Governor Christine Gregoire’s request to address yet another projected revenue shortfall.

The agency may also slash biologist positions that could affect salmon fishing in the Grays Harbor system and North Coast, and lower oyster and clam harvests and hamper crab and shrimp seasons in Puget Sound.

Up to seven senior managers might be laid off, the Columbia and inland salt waters may go unmonitored for invasive species arriving in cargo ships, and less work would get done on salmon recovery in the future as well.

Scare tactics or not, those measures and others reflect how WDFW would deal with 5 and 10 percent reductions in its General Fund appropriations.

A month or so ago Gregoire, a two-term governor who says she won’t seek a third term, ordered all state agencies to undergo the exercise after revised numbers from budget forecasters showed a shortfall of $1.4 billion in Washington’s coffers over the next two years.

It has since grown to $2 billion and she has called the Legislature back for a special session after Thanksgiving.

And despite last November’s anti-tax mood at the ballot box, on Tuesday the Associated Press reported that Gregoire and other Democrats may be looking into a February special election on a tax package to plug the budget.

As it stands, adjusted for inflation, WDFW says it has lost 41 percent of its General Fund support during this recession, a drop from $110 million in 2007-09 to $69 million in 2011-3. And unless kindly old St. Nicholas leaves a big old wad of cash on the statehouse grounds over the holidays instead of the usual reindeer doots these days, this next round may add incision to insult and injury.

“With all the cuts the last three years, we’re talking about cutting meat and bone out of what’s left,” Director Phil Anderson told me late last week.


In he and Fish & Wildlife Commission chair Miranda Wecker’s 2012 Supplemental Operating Budget Request, he told his counterpart at the Office of Financial Management, “We understand that every agency must do its part in crafting solutions to the current dilemma. However, we find ourselves out of any good options to suggest.”

Those previous cuts, he says, are now manifesting themselves in less supervision of the agency’s 1,440 full-time employees and declines in their productivity — even though some of their work helps prop up the state.

“The fish we produce and the fisheries we manage generate $2.7 billion of economic activity each year,” Anderson wrote to OFM.

Even as he proposes cuts, he also argues they would “directly lead to a loss of jobs” and “less protection of natural resources: fewer staff to protect fish life through Hydraulic Permits, fewer staff to leverage outside grants to recover salmon populations, no staff to detect invasive mussels in ballast water, and less leadership to ensure the department operates efficiently and effectively.”

While some lawmakers may want to instead shave a little more here, a little more there, Anderson says that, “We do not believe we can push any more work onto staff; we need to let go of work functions in this round of reductions.”

There was a preview of that line of thinking last fall when he said that eliminating the Puget Sound steelhead program was one way WDFW could get around the last big budget shortfall.

That and the idea to demobolize a platoon of game wardens were both dropped, and instead WDFW continued to “cut layers of management and support,” “use other funds,” and “reduce programs and service levels” to tighten its budget.

This go-around, because the General Fund does the heavy lifting for the state’s hatchery salmon program and many of those facilities are in Western Washington, that’s naturally where some of the biggest cutting is proposed.

(The fees we sportsmen pay for fishing and hunting licenses are largely protected in the State Wildlife Account, which roughly makes up a quarter of WDFW’s budget. The General Fund contributes another quarter, while local, federal and other moneys account for the other half.)

After talking with employees who may be affected by the latest round of potential cuts over the past few days, Anderson released his 144-page budget request yesterday afternoon to his staffers.

In it, under a 5 percent cut, WDFW would scale back Chinook smolt releases at Hoodsport by 800,000, chum by 12 million and pinks by half a million.

Of course, many of those young salmon will die along their journey to adulthood, but according to WDFW, 2,000 fewer kings would be harvested by sport, tribal and commercial anglers annually in Hood Canal while 60 percent fewer chums would be available for treaty and nontreaty nets.

The Nemah Hatchery south of Raymond and Samish Hatchery north of Mount Vernon would both be eliminated under the 10 percent option.

Killing the former would lead to a 43 percent reduction in king production in Willapa Bay (it sends out 3 million smolts annually) while eliminating the latter would tear a 20 percent hole in Puget Sound hatchery Chinook releases (it produces 4.5 million smolts).

Well-known South Coast salmon angler Tony Floor termed the potential Nemah cut “a dagger to the heart” as most of Willapa Bay’s returning Chinook are hatchery produced, including 32,476 of the 36,768 adults expected back this year.

“WDFW does a poor job, when it comes to identifying priority cuts, with little or no concern about cutting a sport fishery which generates incredible economic input to the Department and the state,” said the fishing affairs director for the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

In an email sent out to all agency staffers (and posted here), Joe Stohr said closure of Nemah would deal a nearly half a million dollar a year blow to the local economy.

Samish kings contribute to various sport fisheries throughout the year, but primarily are caught in summer and fall in Skagit and Bellingham Bays and the Samish River by sportfishers and commercial netters.

The facility also supplies half a million Chinook eggs to the Lummi Tribe.

The trio of hatchery cuts would pare $1.25 million from the budget over the next two years.

In 2009, state-operated hatcheries released 32.5 million mass-marked Chinook smolts into Puget Sound and coastal river systems north of the Columbia. Tribes also raise and release salmon.

At first glance, one potential cut appears to be a “win” for sports, but closing commercial salmon and sturgeon seasons in Grays Harbor would also affect recreational fishing in Southwest Washington because a support biologist and a statistician who work on both groups’ fisheries would be laid off under the 10 percent reduction. That would save $382,000.

Thirty percent fewer clams and oysters would be seeded on Puget Sound beaches under a 5 percent cut that includes laying off one of two shellfish biologists, leading to a 20 percent drop in the harvest within two to three years, according to WDFW. In Hood Canal alone, recreational gatherers harvested 657,000 oysters in 2009. The move would cut over a quarter million dollars the next two years.

And senior regional managers, special assistants to Anderson himself, and upper level game wardens are at risk. Under a 5 percent reduction, five would be laid off while seven would under the harsher cut.

That would save nearly $1.8 million over two years — but also decrease the number of people working with the tribes and other governments on comanaged fisheries, WDFW says.

Overall, around 36 full-time staffers might be laid off and $6.9 million hacked from the two-year budget under th 10 percent reduction. Under the lower amount, the agency would have to do without $3.45 million and 18 fewer employees.

“We’re at the early stages,” says Stohr, pointing to two more upcoming budget forecasts, one before the special legislative session and one after 2012’s short session. “These were meant to be our best advice/recommendations on how to manage those level of cuts. It’s very possible the November forecast may require us to do even more. Then there’s the March forecast.”

Still, even as the department details how it would deal with fewer dollars, it’s also requesting more money.

With fish food rising in cost 20 percent since just January 2010, and tens of millions of hatchery salmon, steelhead, trout and kokanee mouths to feed, WDFW is asking for $180,000 more to make due through mid-2013.

It also wants to move out of its Region 5 office, located in a “high crime” area of Vancouver. According to WDFW, there have been 28 “incident reports” through the first nine months of 2011 alone; a staffer reports lots of gas thefts, syringes in the parking lot, at least one employee’s car being stolen when it was parked on the street, and homeless people camping and peeing on the grounds.


Anderson et al is asking lawmakers for $360,000 to move the office to a building at the Port of Ridgefield in late 2012 and outfit it with phones and other equipment.

And there’s also a request for an additional $75,000 $150,000 for wolf population monitoring over the next two years ($75,000 per year). That would go towards hiring a field staffer to search for more packs in the Blues, Cascades and Northeast as well as pay for travel, supplies and other items. Funding would come from sales of endangered wildlife license plates.

(The importance of putting radio and GPS collars on wolves to follow their movements was underscored recently by ODFW’s decision to kill off two more members of its Imnaha Pack, which were tracked to the location of a 14th confirmed livestock wolfkill over the past year and a half.)

WDFW proposes creating new wolf and cougar license plates that, it says, would raise $150,000 a year starting in 2013.

I’ll admit, there are a lot of ifs, mights, woulds and coulds in this article, but this deserves close attention from Washington sportsmen.