Western Lawmakers Team to De-List Wolves

Western Lawmakers Team to De-List Wolves

The battle over wolves in Western states continued in April and May.

And there are no signs of the fight ending anytime soon.

U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse of Washington, Greg Walden of Oregon and Chris Stewart of Utah introduced legislation in that would take gray wolves off the federal endangered species list in their states and turn management of wolves over to state agencies.

In a separate letter to Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Newhouse and 36 other representatives, all but one Republicans, asked that gray wolves be delisted nationally, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in 2013.

At that time, the wildlife service said gray wolves didn’t warrant listing because they are not a distinct species as defined in the Endangered Species Act. The ruling has not been implemented.

The letter to Jewell said the “uncontrolled and unmanaged growth of wolf populations” has had a devastating effect on ranching and hunting.

The failure of USFWS to follow through on its 2013 proposal has decreased the “social tolerance” for wolves and hurts states’ ability to manage wolves, Newhouse said in the letter.

“We believe that state governments are fully qualified to responsibly manage gray wolf populations and are better able to meet the needs of local communities, ranchers, livestock and wildlife populations,” Newhouse said.

The legislation and letter indicate the continuing political, social and economic strife that accompany government efforts to recover species on the brink.

In the West, wolf populations have rebounded and spread rapidly since the mid-1990s, but ranchers believe they’ve unfairly shouldered the burden through attacks on livestock and the cost of non-lethal defensive measures.

Gray wolves are already federally delisted in Idaho and in the eastern thirds of Oregon and Washington.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering whether to remove gray wolves from the state endangered species list; the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a letter backing Newhouse’s proposal.

A spokeswoman for a conservation group called Newhouse’s idea “appalling” and said Congress should not be deciding which animals get endangered species protection.

Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity said Utah has no wolves beyond a few spotted over the years, and the populations in Oregon and Washington are “small and still in the early stages of recovery.”

Weiss, the Center’s West Coast wolf organizer, said state management of wolves has not turned out well. No state has shown it can stand up to the “livestock industry and the sports-hunting industry who want to see wolf populations once again eradicated or reduced to bare bones numbers,” she said in an email.

Weiss said studies have shown non-lethal control of wolves has greater long-term effect than killing them, and that elk and deer populations remain stable in areas where wolf packs roam. She said livestock losses from wolves are a fraction of losses from other causes.

“Put all of these pieces together and it is clear that states are not prepared or not inclined to be stewards of the public’s wolves at this point in time,” Weiss said.

Washington Wolf Committee
The first meeting of Washington state’s expanded wolf advisory group was to be closed to the public at the request of a private consultant, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife official said prior to the May 21-22 meeting in Spokane.

WDFW hired Francine Madden, executive director of Ohio-based Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration, to facilitate the two-day meeting.

The group, which has been doubled in size to 18 members since its formation in 2013, has met nine previous times in public to talk about WDFW’s execution of Washington’s wolf recovery plan, a subject of intense public interest.

WDFW’s wolf policy coordinator, Dave Ware, said Madden wanted the first meeting of the enlarged board to be closed to encourage members to speak freely and get to know each other.

“I think people are more willing to share and be open without that scrutiny,” he said.

Madden recently interviewed ranchers, environmentalists, hunters, WDFW employees and other public officials for an assessment of the public conflict over wolf management. Ware said the report cost the state $82,000. Her fee for facilitating the wolf advisory group meeting was not immediately available.

Washington Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Jack Field, who has been on the board since it was formed, said the board has always allowed the public to observe meetings and offer their comments at the end.

Field said the board members should be held more accountable by taking votes on recommendations – something they’ve never done before.

Idaho Wolf Count Questioned

Idaho officials are overestimating the number of wolves in the state for a number reasons including relying on sightings by hunters rather than using only trained professionals, a conservation group said.

“Since 2009 more than 1,300 wolves have been hunted or trapped in Idaho, and another nearly 500 have been lethally removed from Idaho’s landscape,” Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “In the face of these astounding numbers, it’s no wonder that Idaho may have experienced a nearly 50 percent drop in breeding pairs.”

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game in a 70-page report released April 3 said there were at least 770 wolves in the state, with a minimum of 26 breeding pairs, as of Dec. 31, 2014. The Center notes that’s a steep drop from the 49 breeding pairs in 2009, when wolves in Idaho reached their peak.

The Center also questions the state agency’s estimate of 6.5 wolves per pack, a key number as it’s part of an equation — when multiplied by the number of packs in the state— to tally the overall population. Jim Hayden, a biologist with Fish and Game, defended the state report’s estimate of the minimum number of wolves in Idaho. Hayden is listed as an editor of the report.

“The 770 is a number we’re very confident with,” he said. “We know the actual truth is higher than that, we just don’t know how far higher.” He said the agency stopped counting breeding pairs of wolves after surveying 43 packs because it’s expensive and the number had cleared the minimum as required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal agency could retake management control of the Idaho wolf population if numbers fall below certain criteria.

If the state fails to maintain 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves over any three-year period, or if the population falls below 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in any year, the federal agency could take over. Fish and Wildlife estimates that a minimum of 1,783 wolves in more than 300 packs roamed the six-state region at the end of last year.

Hayden said that radio collars on 32 packs in Idaho were used by Fish and Game to come up with 6.5 wolves per pack, which is an increase from 5.4 wolves per pack the previous year.

Oregon Wolf Delisting Update

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has begun, at least tentatively, the process to remove the gray wolf from the state’s endangered species list.

The state’s wolf plan calls for beginning the delisting process when the state has at least four breeding pairs for three consecutive years. Oregon reached that standard at the end of 2014, when eight breeding pairs were counted. Four breeding pairs were confirmed in 2013 and six in 2012.

But ranchers who thought reaching that goal was an automatic trigger for delisting are disappointed. While the commission last month voted unanimously to start the process, it has also asked the Department of Fish and Wildlife to present it with information about delisting wolves throughout the state, delisting wolves in only the eastern part of the state, or leaving them on the endangered species list.

Ranchers, who bear much of the expense of literally holding the wolves at bay and receive only partial compensation when they are unsuccessful, feel betrayed.

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