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FEATURED PROFESSIONAL: Jim Bottorff, Stewardship Biologist, WA Department of Natural Resources

Washington State Wolf Management Plan

There seems to be no middle ground when the conversation turns to wolves and wolf management in Washington Idaho, and Montana—you either love them or hate them. One thing is certain though and that is wolves are here and will continue to multiply and expand their range. The rapid expansion of the species to date is due to the reintroductions that were made into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem well over a decade ago. They have not been reintroduced into Washington by either the state or federal governments. Under the federal Endangered Species Act wolves have been delisted from Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and the eastern third of Washington where a minimum of 2 packs (a pack is a minimum of an adult pair travelling together) have been documented to date. The wolf is still listed as endangered in the remainder of Washington. In order for management to be returned to the states each had to develop an acceptable management plan that would not allow the species’ population to drop below a certain number. That has been accomplished in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, where the species is now managed by those states and where, after repeated court challenges, some hunting is allowed by permit.

Washington has been working on such a plan since 2006 that would not only allow management to be returned to state authority but allow delisting under the state endangered species act as well. Several alternatives have been presented in a draft environmental impact statement with one somewhat ‘middle of the road’ preferred alternative highlighted. That alternative, and the others as well, lists the successive steps that must be achieved to downlist from endangered to threatened and then to sensitive status and eventual relisting as a game animal under state laws and the different allowable management under each step. The preferred alternative would require a minimum of 15 pairs throughout the state with differing numbers in each of the 3 wolf recovery regions for a minimum of 3 years for total removal from the state list. Different levels of management, such as non-lethal and lethal removal of individual wolves depredating livestock operations, is listed for each step. Reimbursement to the landowner for lost livestock at the rate of twice the going value is included for operations over 100 acres and at face value for those less than 100 acres. No specific land use changes or restrictions are considered necessary (at this time- authors statement) for wolf recovery as the species is a ‘habitat generalist’. Three things are essential for wolf recovery: adequate prey (primarily deer, elk, and moose), human tolerance (including no disturbance of denning areas), and connectivity to other wolf populations.

This is just a summary of the Washington State draft plan and planning process. Comments on the draft EIS and draft plan will be received until January 8, 2010 by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife either in their regional office in Spokane or on their website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wildlife/management/gray_wolf/mgmt_plan.html) where the plan and draft EIS can be reviewed and comments forwarded.

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