OLYMPIA — Legislation directing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to move wolves from east to west passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Feb. 1.
The bill, sponsored by northeast Washington Rep. Joel Kretz, was supported by urban lawmakers, but was opposed by Western Washington legislators whose rural districts would be candidates for receiving wolves.
“This is a difficult one for me. I may be a lone wolf on this one and be a ‘no’ vote. I understand why the bill is needed. and I think it’s going to pass here today, and so let’s call the roll,” said committee chairman Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen.
The committee voted 12-3 to recommend the House approve the bill. Two Republicans who also represent rural southwest Washington cast the other no votes.
House Bill 2771 declares that the eastern one-third of Washington has a host of thriving wolfpacks and urgently needs relief. Under the bill, WDFW would start a scientific review to translocate wolves to suitable regions unoccupied by wolves.
A review could take several years. The department would be required to report to the Legislature on its progress by the end of 2020.
Wolves are well established in northeast Washington and are showing signs of migrating toward the North Cascades. Wildlife managers also expect wolves to colonize the South Cascades, though WDFW has yet to document a pack in that region.
Wolves are a state-protected species and under current law will be until they are reproducing at least as far west as the Cascades.
Redistributing wolves within the state is an option to spur recovery, according to the state’s wolf plan. WDFW, however, says it expects wolves will disperse without help.
Kretz, whose expansive district has a majority of the state’s wolves, said he was more concerned about immediately taking pressure off his constituents, particularly ranchers.
“I appreciate people working with me on this,” he said.
Although against relocating wolves, Blake said the state’s wolf policy is unfair to northeast Washington. “We do have to deal with this,” he said.
The vote itself was highly unusual. Committee chairmen rarely allow votes on bills they oppose.
The Washington Farm Bureau and Washington Cattlemen’s Association supported the bill at an earlier hearing.
“It is an urgent, dire situation in northeast Washington,” the Farm Bureau’s director of government relations Tom Davis said, testifying on behalf of both organizations.
WDFW has culled wolfpacks five times since 2012 to stop chronic attacks on livestock.
Kretz has introduced bills to translocate wolves in prior years. This is the first time the proposal has won support from a committee. There is no similar bill under consideration in the Senate.
Wolves that were moved to the western two-thirds of Washington would come under the more-stringent protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.