More Wolves, Not Less, Seattle Says

More wolves. Lots more.

WDFW staffers heard that sentiment over and over last night in Seattle during a meeting at REI on the state’s draft management plan, a different tone than previous events in Yakima and Aberdeen.

The plan’s assumption that 15 breeding pairs of wolves across Washington equaled recovery and delisting from state protections was challenged as too low by most of the 20 people who spoke during public comment.

However, that was not universal. A North Bend hunter, Jack Field of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, and an Olympia area rancher all said 15 was too high.

“Compared to Idaho, we should have seven,” said David Wilson, the hunter, who came dressed in tasteful camo baseball hat, camo boots and camo belt.

He also took umbrage with some of the verbiage in the 300-page document, specifically “illegal hunting” which is used 14 times. He wanted to see a more respectful term used for the problem of poaching.

And during the question-and-answer period afterwards, Wilson pointed at nebulous language in the plan that WDFW would “do better wildlife management.”

With so many unknowns as wolves filter back into Washington, Harriet Allen, among the authors of the plan, had to answer that question nebulously — “A lot is to be seen” — but did her best with 14 or so other querries before the meeting wrapped up a bit before 9 p.m.

It was the eighth of 12 get-togethers being held around the state during a three-month public comment period. Tomorrow night there is another meeting, at the Cottontree Inn Convention Center, 2300 Market St., in Mount Vernon. It begins at 6:30 p.m.

While the subject of wolves is extremely polarizing, the approximately 150 or so people who attended last night’s forum — the most since Yakima — were well-mannered, the comments free of personal attacks and the typical cultural fears about wolves. As everyone filed out, an audience member approached Field and thanked him for coming over from Ellensburg.

For his part, Field feels wolves are the most important issue “we’ll face in the next 50 years.”

“Even bigger than salmon?” I asked.

He said yes.

Seated next to Field, and also wearing a light-colored cowboy hat, tucked-in shirt and Wranglers but work boots, was Rick Nelson. He told WDFW that he was part of a ranching family that goes back 150 years, and that “predators are a serious problem in the livestock.”

He used vivid imagery to paint a picture of a coyote-killed calf, and said it would be worse with wolves.

“Lethal take is something I need. I’m not going to wait to call 911,” he said.

Field and Nelson both called for a much lower number of breeding pairs, around eight, before delisting.

That’s a bit fewer wolves, though, than many want. Ralph Turner, who says he lives next to the Olympic National Forest, called for 30 pairs.

A few called for flat-out reintroduction of wolves into places like Olympic National Park — not a consideration at this time.

But at least nine speakers supported WDFW’s Alternative 3, which divides the state into four recovery regions — the preferred version, Alt 2, has just three — and requires they be on the Coast, theoretically the most difficult area for wolves to get to, before delisting.

Translocation — moving wolves around inside the state to facilitate recovery — is part of Alternatives 2 and 3, but would require either state or national environmental reviews based on where any animals were being released.

Alternative 3 also contains what’s described as the “most generous” compensation for confirmed or suspected livestock depredations. Under Alternative 2, ranchers would be paid current market value at a 2:1 ratio on grazing areas over 100 acres (the theory being that for every cow or sheep wolves kill, there’s probably another that won’t be found).

However, funding sources for reparations aren’t clearly identified.

Several speakers noted personal experiences with wolves — hearing them while kayaking or camping in Alaska.

Phil Lundahl of Lynnwood, the evening’s first commenter, experienced the latter: “I want that opportunity for my two girls,” he said.

It was a line that gained loud applause, a whispered “good start” between two staffers of Conservation Northwest seated near me, and an immediate tamp-down from Madonna Luers, a spokeswoman for WDFW acting as the meeting’s facilitator, for reasons of time constraints.

But Lundahl was far from being some wide-eyed, dreadlocked, Red Riding Hood, REI clothes-smothered ecosort. He introduced himself as “deer and elk hunter” who’s been chasing game in Washington for 20 years.

“I do support wolves in this state as a hunter. There are hunters who support wolves,” he said in his opening comments. “They belong here. They need to be welcomed back.”

He listed positive ecological benefits of wolves on ungulates — healthier animals — and landscapes — less overbrowsing.

Lundahl, Wilson, Field and Nelson were among the half of the audience that actually stuck around through the whole meeting, and afterwards, as WDFW staffers picked up the room, Lundahl was engaged in deep conversation with another hunter who hadn’t spoken.

When he broke away to fetch his car out of REI’s garage before the company closed the doors for the evening, I caught up to the soft-spoken 50-year-old.

His comments were not something I’ve heard much of from many Washington hunters, at least not publicly.

A successful outdoorsman, he says he’s tramped the William O. Douglas and Goat Rocks wilderness areas as well as Quilomine in the Colockum in search of bucks and bulls.

“In the long run, wolves are in the best interest of deer, elk and moose, and the health of those species are in the best interest of big-game hunters,” Lundahl said.

Whether that’s true or not, two months remain in the public comment period. If you can’t make tonight’s (Nov. 4) meeting in Mount Vernon, Thursday’s in Sequim, or next week’s in Omak and Wenatchee, you can also fax, mail or electronically submit your thoughts through Jan. 8.

FAX: (360) 902-2946

Mail: WDFW SEPA Desk, 600 Capitol Way N. Olympia, WA 98501-1091.

Online: http://wdfw.wa.gov/wildlife/management/gray_wolf/mgmt_plan.html