The head of Washington’s wildlife agency supported the federal delisting of wolves in an April letter.
Kelly Susewind, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife director, submitted a letter commenting on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services proposed rule to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list.
The letter, written April 18, was first reported by the Capital Press.
“The Department finds the USFWS proposal to remove gray wolves from the federal List of endangered and Threatened Wildlife and return management authority in the western two-thirds of Washington to the Department appropriate and timely,” Susewind wrote.
The ESA, he said, is intended for species on the verge of extinction. Wolves in Washington do not need that protection.
“The state of Washington is well prepared to be the management authority for wolves statewide and would be pleased to see limited federal resources directed to other species still critically in need,” he wrote.
Wolves are protected by state endangered species rules in the eastern third of the state.
They remain federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state.
There are a minimum of 126 wolves, 27 packs and 15 breeding pairs in the state, according to WDFW’s most recent report. The majority of those wolves live in Northeast Washington.
Susewind’s letter was too narrowly focused on Washington, said Chris Bachman, the wildlife program director at the Spokane-based Lands Council.
“He’s sort of discounting everyone else that doesn’t have a recovering wolf population that would potentially like to have it,” Bachman said.
Bachman points out that 5,000 wolves live in the Lower 48, occupying about 10 percent of their historic range.
While they may be recovering in Washington, delisting them federally is premature, he said.
“If we revert back to putting the management in the hands of the state, what that becomes is regional management, which is in essence cultural management,” Bachman said. “If the culture of that state is anti-wolf, they are going to be decimated. If the culture is pro-wolf, they will be protected.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based conservation group, decried Susewind’s support.
“It’s not a surprise,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center for Biological Diversity’s West Coast wolf advocate. “But again, it’s just a reflection of how out of step they are about what most Washington residents think about wolves and protections for wolves.”
Nationwide, she said, “Wolves are not recovered.”
WDFW has previously supported the federal delisting of wolves.
In May 2018, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife supported a House bill proposing delisting wolves. In a letter to Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., one of the bill’s co-sponsors, the department said it can’t “fully implement our plan in the western two-thirds of the state.”
Federal protections of wolves in the western two-thirds of the state prohibit WDFW from killing problem wolves.
In 2018, a pack was confirmed west of the Cascade crest for the first time.
Conservation Northwest, a Washington-based conservation group, supported WDFW’s position on delisting.
“Given that wolves are already delisted in much of our state … we don’t see any reason for concern about federal delisting in Washington,” said Chase Gunnell, communications director for Conservation Northwest.
“It’s important to direct wildlife agency resources toward species of the greatest ecological need,” Gunnell said.
Wolves are not federally protected in Idaho. The Rocky Mountain wolf population, to which wolves in Eastern Washington belong, was first delisted in 2008, although environmental groups challenged the decision in court. That delisting was upheld by a judge in 2011 when a congressional rider attached to an appropriations bill removed the animals from the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments on the proposed rule through Tuesday. As of Wednesday, there were 29,376 comments.