Why Wolf Meetings During Rifle Hunts?

When WDFW announced the schedule for public meetings on their draft wolf management plan, there was a bit of howling from hunters.

The dozen get-togethers were slated for the meat of deer and elk rifle seasons, the most popular and well-attended hunts in Washington.

Things kicked off Oct. 20, the Tuesday after the blacktail, muley and whitetail opener, in Clarkston, and proceeded to Richland on Wednesday and Yakima on Thursday.

Today, there will be a meeting in Colville, followed by Spokane, Vancouver and Aberdeen on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.

As elk hunters hole up on Halloween in the highlands of Kittitas and Yakima Counties as well as the Blue Mountains for the weeklong wapiti season, WDFW will hold meetings in Seattle, Mount Vernon and Sequim that following week.

And after late Northeast whitetail rifle and Westside modern firearm elk hunts open in November’s second week, state staffers will gather in Omak and Wenatchee.

So what the heck’s the deal with the timing? Is WDFW trying to keep hunters from commenting on the wolf plan, keep our voices from being heard by scheduling meetings when we’re up in the mountains?

“Yeah, we’ve heard that at a few of the meetings we’ve had already,” says the agency’s Madonna Luers. “But it’s nothing by design. It’s just the way it happened. In fact, we originally had some of these locations scheduled earlier in October.”

She points to an early September meeting with a citizen advisory panel, the Wolf Working Group, to go over scientific peer review comments on the draft plan.

“There were a whole lot more comment than expected,” Luers says. “And so there wasn’t enough time to get a final draft plan out for public review before October 5. And we wanted to give people at least two weeks before the first public meeting to look at that plan. We had to actually reschedule some meetings for later in the month.”

State staffers and the wolf group have been working since early 2007 on a plan for dealing with the return of the species to Washington.

“It’s too bad, but we’re actually getting good crowds at the meetings, including hunters because they’re not out every day,” Luers says.

That was in evidence at the Yakima meeting, according to an article by Scott Sandsberry in the Herald-Republic.

The timing has also affected the state’s enforcement officers, who’ve been working the field as well as attending the meetings to get a handle on how to handle livestock depredations, she says.

“Very frankly, hunters are one interest group,” Luers says. “We’ve had a lot of landowners at these meetings. And lots of conservation groups that are interested in wolves from a whole different perspective.”

While rifle hunters represent the largest segment of Washington’s big-game-hunting population, there are also thousands of archers and muzzleloaders whose deer and elk seasons occur on either side of the 12 meetings.

“It’s hitting the heart of some seasons, but missing others,” says Luers. “You can’t please everyone, but we’re doing the best we can.”

I’ll be at the Seattle meeting Nov. 2 — early too. I hope to see many fellow hunters there.

Meanwhile, tonight’s meeting will be held at the Northeast Washington Fairgrounds Ag-Trade Center, 317 West Astor Ave., in Colville. It begins at 6:30 p.m.

And if you can’t make it to the meetings, you can either fax, mail or electronically submit your comments through January 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