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WA: Groups seek to delist wolves in Eastern Wash.

The Associated Press

ELLENSBURG, Wash. — Two groups have filed a petition with the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife to strip endangered species protections from gray wolves in the eastern one-third of the state.

The Washington Cattlemen’s Association and the Hunter Heritage Council announced the petition, which was dated Sept. 30, in a joint statement Wednesday. The two groups moved for wolves instead to be classified as a big game species, which would allow them to be hunted.

“Both of our organizations support wolf recovery, but efforts are required to insure that wolf populations don’t become so large that the animals become a menace and there is a public backlash against their presence as there is with cougars in some areas of the state,” said Mark Pidgeon, president of the Hunters Heritage Council.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released a plan for managing wolves earlier this summer. However, a 17-member citizen advisory group was unable to agree on recommendations for the plan despite months of discussion.

In particular, representatives of hunting and ranching groups opposed the number of wolves called for in the plan: 15 successful breeding pairs for three consecutive years to remove endangered species protections.

Earlier this year, Congress stripped federal endangered-species protections from wolves in Montana, Idaho and the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon. They remain listed in the western two-thirds of those states.

In addition, wolves are protected under those two states’ endangered species laws, affording them similar protections as the federal law.

When the Fish and Wildlife Department convened a group four years ago to help draft the recovery plan, there were no confirmed wolf packs or breeding pairs in Washington, the petition said. The state now has confirmed at least five wolf packs, four of which reside in the eastern one-third of the state.

In Oregon, state wildlife officials recently issued an order to kill two of that state’s 14 wolves for killing livestock, following months of complaints about losses from northeast Oregon ranchers. Conservation groups are seeking to block the kill.

Washington wildlife officials must ensure that a final plan is rooted in sound and effective management so “we can avoid having a situation similar to what is occurring in Oregon right now,” Washington Cattlemen’s Association executive vice president Jack Field said.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will hold a public meeting in Olympia Thursday to discuss aspects of the proposed management plan.