Three months after they approved the statewide wolf management plan, the Fish & Wildlife Commission is preparing another major document on Canis lupus in Washington, albeit a far shorter and more succinct one.
Early next month the nine-member citizen panel will publicly discuss a draft of their “wolf position statement.”
In its current state, it’s a seven-page distillation of the Department of Fish & Wildlife’s 300-page-long recovery and conservation plan, outline of commissioners’ thoughts on it, pointed reminder to WDFW about who is watching over its shoulder, and message to those who may be affected by wolves the most.
“We hear the concerns. We view them as legitimate. We will prod the agency to place a very high priority on them,” said a resolute-sounding chairwoman Miranda Wecker in a telephone interview last week.
It’s rare for the commission to go to such a length, but as the Naselle resident who’s served on the panel since January 2007 points out, it’s also a pretty unique situation and species.
Wecker describes a feeling that grew amongst members in recent months that it would be good to speak in plain English about their views on wolves and wolf management, so they began to draw up the statement.
It’s not meant to conflict with anything in the plan, she says, or upset the road to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service handing over day-to-day statewide wolf management to WDFW.
Rather, it talks about long-term goals, impacts to livestock and big game, and building and keeping social tolerances for wolves in order.
It places a “very high priority” on maintaining hunter opportunities.
“If we destroy hunting in this state, we’re in a world of hurt — we have no other model to fall back on, no way to raise money to support game management,” Wecker says.
Even as WDFW reassigns staffers who worked on the wolf plan to other species, the commission’s statement directs the agency to start planning now for the day after the recovery goal — delisting from state ESA protections across Washington — is met.
Wecker says she’s already seeing some good signs that WDFW isn’t sitting on its hands on wolves.
Earlier this month the agency advertised five new full-time jobs — two trappers and three technicians — tasked exclusively to wolves. She called that “a big deal in these times of shrinking budgets.”
She also points to new drives to improve reporting and counting utilizing the eyes and ears of hunters in the region. To aid in that, WDFW is testing a beta version of an online reporting page similar to one on Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ Web site, she says.
Agency-request legislation, House Bill 2365, is working its way through Olympia. It would classify wolves as big game and give ranchers more tools to deal with wolves attacking livestock. The Senate’s proposed supplementary budget funds wolf work to the tune of $355,000 through fiscal year 2013.
And an uptick in wolf reports posted to WDFW’s Dangerous & Problem Wildlife page also indicates that it’s no longer business as it has been. The page is now compiling fairly pedestrian incidents — howling and tracks, moose kills, and wolf sightings — along with possible human interactions. One recent report shows that, even when it seems doubtful that wolves are responsible, field staffers are putting more effort into investigating incidents such as with an attack on a woman in eastern Okanogan County one evening earlier this month.
“We’re 99 percent sure (it was a feral dog), but we’re still doing our jobs,” says WDFW Sgt. Jim Brown.
Just in case, trail cams were being set up over bait stations in the area, which has seen feral dog attacks on livestock in the past though there are also wolves on the Colville Reservation 15 to 20 miles to the east, Brown says. And if need be, he has the sweater the woman wore that night if Headquarters decides to run it for DNA.
Wecker says the commission will probably vote on the position statement at its April meeting in Olympia.
Unasked but sensing my question, she says that one of the newest and certainly the most controversial member “supported it enthusiastically.”
That would be Jay Kehne, the Omak resident whose part-time employment with the wolf, wildlife and wildlands advocacy group Conservation Northwest has raised hackles amongst some hunters and Eastern Washington legislators.
“I definitely support it,” Kehne said yesterday. “In my mind, people are going to have to realize that wolves will be wolves and some will have to be managed.”
Managed, of course, is a euphemism for killing those that repeatedly attack livestock, are found to be detrimental to big game herds, as with the aerial shooting of 14 in North Idaho last week, or are threats to humans. It can also mean working with stockmen to prevent attacks in the first place.
“Some wolf enthusiasts want wolves to live out their natural lives,” says Wecker. “That’s not the position of the department. Let me be crystal clear: Wolves will become a game species. They will be managed, and not for maximum population.”
Strong words that buoy this hunter’s hopes that, at the same time a place will be found for the species in Washington, they will not be allowed to run the game as they were in Idaho and Montana because of years of lawsuits.
Now, to see the statement approved and acted upon.