The federal decision that gray wolves would no longer be regarded as a federally endangered species won’t change much in Washington.
Gray wolves in Washington remain listed as endangered by the state.
The gray wolf was listed as endangered by the State of Washington in 1980. That means it’s protected from “hunting, possession, malicious harassment, and killing,” according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The federal change, which affects wolves in the western part of the state, was announced by Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt. After 45 years as a “listed species,” he said in a statement, “the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery.” Gray wolves in eastern Washington were delisted nine years ago.
The federal rule, which could become effective early next year, will not change how the agency manages wolves in the state.
“Our priorities remain the same: Focusing on continued recovery and reducing conflict between wolves and livestock,” said Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Staci Lehman.
The department backs the Trump administration’s Thursday announcement that gray wolves would no longer be regarded as a federally endangered species.
The agency “supports and facilitates the recovery of wolves in Washington state and feels that delisting is appropriate considering the rate of recovery,” said Lehman.
The state reported at the end of last year a minimum of 108 wolves in state-managed areas and 37 on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
Such surveys are done in winter because wolf populations have the least amount of natural fluctuation during this time. The 2020 population count will be available in April 2021.
A pack is two or more wolves traveling together in winter. A breeding pair is at least one adult male and one adult female wolf that raised at least two pups that survived until December 31.
The state’s wolf population was almost gone in the 1930s. But in 2008, state wildlife officials documented a resident pack in Okanogan County, and the population has gone up every year.
CONCERNS ABOUT DELISTING
The statute of limitations under the federal Endangered Species Act is five years, but with wolves delisted, environmental groups say it will be much harder to convince federal prosecutors to pursue cases against wolf poachers who killed wolves prior to them losing protections.
Already, wolf advocates say federal prosecutors rarely pursue criminal charges against wolf poachers unless the suspect admitted to intentionally targeting a protected wolf.
“If they’re delisted, I would be shocked if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service” brought charges against a poacher, said Collette Adkins, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which plans to challenge the Trump administration rule in court.
In Oregon and Washington, there are at least 31 cases in which wolves died under suspicious circumstances since 2015, but no charges were filed, said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity.
The federal decision will be subject to a court challenge, said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and chief executive officer of Defenders of Wildlife.
“Stripping protections for gray wolves is premature and reckless. Gray wolves occupy only a fraction of their former range and need continued federal protection to fully recover,” Rappaport said.
The state “has facilitated wolf recovery for more than a decade and is well-prepared to be the management authority for wolves statewide,” a department state said Thursday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will monitor the state’s wolves for five years.
Of Washington’s 26 known wolf packs, 21 reside in the eastern third of the state. Wolves have not been federally listed under the Endangered Species Act there since 2011.
Wolves in the western two-thirds of the state will now be delisted.
“As guided by the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan developed in 2011, Washington’s wolf population is on a path to successful recovery,” Lehman said. Since its first wolf survey in 2008, Washington’s wolf population has grown by an average of 28 percent per year.