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Washington Fish and Wildlife officials say the state’s wolf recovery plan is working and halfway to completion.
Once population targets are reached, managers can lift protection for the wolves as an endangered species.
WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello says the state has met the recovery objective in the eastern Washington recovery zone and is halfway there in the central recovery zone.
“I do think the second half here is likely going to be a little faster than the first half because Washington’s wolf population is getting larger and larger and larger,” he said.
State wildlife managers classify wolves as endangered across Washington under state law. In the western two-thirds of Washington, the wolf is listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, meaning it is much more stringently protected there.
Commissioners Kim Thorburn and Jay Kiehne want to know if the plan needs updating as they begin to consider eventual delisting.
“We’ve got these three wolf management zones and we’re piling up in one of them with wolves,” Thorburn said. “I don’t see distribution going in sort of an even fashion into the other zones, which is what the current plan would require for changing the classification.”
The state legislature has instructed the department to consider translocation of wolves under the State Environmental Policy Act, another recognition of the pileup of wolves in Eastern Washington, Thorburn said.
Under SEPA, Thorburn would like to ask more questions, including considering regional delisting instead of statewide delisting.
“The feds have delisted these wolves in northeastern and southeastern Washington,” she said. “Wolves don’t recognize state lines. They’re really a component of a recovered population that are heavily hunted in our neighboring states, Montana and Idaho, and still doing well.”
Ranchers in northeastern Washington have had the “brunt” of wolf recovery, Kiehne said.
“Did we understand at the time it was going to really hit one part of the state and those community members and those communities and those ranchers as hard as can be?” he said. “It’s added expense and added worry to those people that are raising cattle and sheep up there. ... Do we still think we’re on track as we move into this new phase from trying to make sure (wolves are) recovered to making sure they’re not doing damage to people’s livelihoods or their communities?”
With wolves currently listed as endangered, WDFW calls the shots on problem wolves, Thorburn said.
“I think it feels very top-down to local communities,” she said.
She would like to explore a program with more community-based action, similar to cooperatives used in neighboring states.
“Management is going to be hard for some people on the environmental side (and) a welcome relief for people looking forward to a hunting season of wolves,” Kiehne said. “Somewhere in there, we’ve got to come to grips.”
Martorello expects a timeline of several years.
“We want to meet and talk with as many Washington communities as possible, get them involved in the planning process and hear their input,” Martorello said.