Translocating wolves around Washington hasn’t gotten much traction in the state Legislature — until today.
A bill prompting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to use that tool from the agency’s 2011 wolf management plan moved out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee this afternoon on a bipartisan 12-3 recommendation.
It’s a victory for Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) who has annually introduced translocation legislation — some bills more serious than others — to capture wolves in Northeast Washington, where they’re relatively plentiful, and ship them to parts of the state where there are few if any packs.
“It’s part of the wolf plan; why aren’t we using it?” Kretz asked during a public hearing yesterday on his HB 2771.
That plan calls for set numbers of successful breeding packs in three regions of Washington, a benchmark that’s only being met east of Highways 97, 17 and 395, with no known pairs in the South Cascades and Olympics Zone as of the count last March.
For its part, WDFW was officially neutral on the bill, not seeing a need with the state’s wolf population growing at 30 percent a year and the drawn-out SEPA process that would come with translocation.
“In Washington, we are seeing wolves disperse naturally — with multiple sightings on the west side of the Cascades. So while we appreciate this tool, we’d prefer to see wolves recolonize the west side of the state naturally,” said Raquel Crosier, the agency’s legislative liaison, via email.
Still, Kretz was looking to instill “a little urgency” with WDFW.
“We have a plethora of wolves in one small geographic area that is highly dependent on the livestock industry,” he told agency wolf manager Donny Martorello who testified. “We can’t wait another three of four years for you guys to decide maybe we should do something.”
Also in support was Tom Davis, representing the state farm bureau and cattlemen’s association.
Conservation Northwest is neutral, according to spokesman Chase Gunnell.
Responding to Wednesday’s comments from WDFW and others, the substitute bill that was passed today clarifies that livestock-depredating and other problem wolves not be part of a translocation program and removes a cap that required it be completed in three years.
The amended legislation also calls on WDFW to make a report to lawmakers by the end of 2020.
That said, the bill is a long way from becoming actual law. It first would need to be passed by the full House, the Senate and then signed by Governor Jay Inslee.
Among those voting against Kretz’s bill was committee Chairman Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen).
Yesterday, he acknowledged the frustrations felt by cattle producers in Northeast Washington but he also told the Capital Press he has “a visceral opposition to translocation.”
Before today’s vote he joked he might be “a lone wolf” with his no vote, but he was joined by his fellow South Coast representative, Jim Walsh, a Republican, and Ed Orcutt, also a Republican who represents much of the rest of Southwest Washington.
Voting yes were Republicans Vincent Buys of Whatcom County, Joel Kretz of Northeast Washington, Tom Dent of Central Washington, Bruce Chandler of the Yakima Valley and Joe Schmick of Southeast Washington, and Democrats Mike Chapman of the Olympic Peninsula, Joe Fitzgibbon of western King County, Kristine Lytton of the San Juan Islands and Bellingham, Eric Pettigrew of Seattle’s Rainier Valley and Renton, June Robinson of Everett and western Snohomish County, Larry Springer of north King County and Derek Stanford of southwest Snohomish County.