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WA: What happens when wolves are delisted?

Washington wildlife managers are seeking input on a plan they’re crafting for when wolves are no longer protected

By ERIC BARKER of the Tribune

Washington wildlife managers are taking the first steps to craft a wolf plan that will guide management of the species once it is removed from state and federal protection.

Agency officials have opened a public comment period and are asking people to help them shape a post-delisting wolf management plan. The agency will hold a meeting on the topic from 6-8 p.m. Sept. 5 at Clarkston’s Quality Inn.

At the end of last year, Washington had an estimated gray wolf population of 126 animals in 27 documented packs. Wolves started moving into the state in 2008, and since then the population has grown at an average rate of 28 percent per year. They came from packs established in Idaho after they were reintroduced to the state in the 1990s. Others have moved into Washington from British Columbia.

The animals have established a strong foothold in northeastern Washington and in the Blue Mountains in the state’s southeastern corner. But the animals are slowly dispersing farther west. Earlier this year, officials from the department documented the first wolf pack west of the Cascade Crest.

“We are really confident that Washington’s wolves are on the path to recovery,” said Julia Smith, wolf coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Olympia.

Wolves in Washington are managed under both state and federal law. Across the entire state, they are protected by Washington’s version of the federal Endangered Species Act. Wolves are federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state but were removed from federal protection in the eastern third of the state several years ago.

Smith said the state’s 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is designed to guide the species to recovery. The new plan being developed will spell out how the animals will be managed once they no longer need state or federal protection.

“We need a new plan to guide wolf management after wolves are recovered and when we are looking at long-term sustainability of wolves rather than recovery and bringing that population back up to where we want it to be,” Smith said.

The current plan sets the wolf recovery threshold, at which delisting can occur, at 15 successful breeding pairs of wolves statewide for three consecutive years, with at least four successful breeding pairs for three consecutive years in each of the three recovery zones. The Eastern Recovery Zone is meeting that criteria, and the Northern Cascades Zone is close. But in the third zone, the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast, there is just one pack.

Many hunters who believe wolves are killing too many deer and elk, and ranchers who are fed up with wolves killing their livestock, are eager to see the animals delisted. Wolves in northeastern Washington have killed several cattle, and the state has authorized culling some packs there. The latest order came this week when Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind authorized lethal removal of members of the Old Profanity Pack that have repeatedly preyed on cattle.

But wolves have many supporters as well. The state’s decision to kill members of the Old Profanity Pack was quickly challenged by an environmental group, but on Friday, a King County Superior Court denied the group’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have stopped the state from going forward with the lethal removal plan.

The Grouse Flats Pack in the Blue Mountains killed two cows in July and is nearing a cattle-depredation threshold that would permit Susewind to authorize lethal action there if he chooses.

More information on the state’s plan to craft the new wolf management plan and how to provide comments on it is available at