WA legislation proposes relocating wolves



Kretz legislation proposes relocating wolves

Washington’s best wolf habitat is in the southern Cascade Mountains, where vast federal lands support more than 20,000 elk in the state’s two largest herds.

State biologists expect wolves to discover this prime territory and thrive there by 2022, after gradually dispersing south along the Cascade range.

But seven years is too long a wait for state Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, whose Northeast Washington legislative district is currently home to 11 of the state’s 14 wolf packs, as well as cattle ranchers and sheep herders.

He’s again sponsoring what he calls a “share the love” bill that would require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to try relocating wolves to other parts of Washington.

“Most of the support in the state for wolves … comes from areas where there are no wolves,” said Kretz, who last year sponsored a bill to capture Eastern Washington wolves and transplant them to the districts of West Side legislators opposed to any controls on the predators.

But the current bill, HB 1224, isn’t a jab at Western Washington, Kretz said. Instead, it’s intended to speed up wolves’ colonization of the state, which would hasten the removal of federal and state protections for wolves and allow for more active management.

The legislation is among several wolf-related bills scheduled for hearings today in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Relocating wolves would face steep political hurdles, but some livestock producers and environmental groups think the idea has merit.

The Washington Cattlemen’s Association wants ranchers to have more options for dealing with wolves that attack livestock, said Jack Field, the association’s executive vice president. That won’t happen until wolf populations recover to the point that federal protections are lifted throughout the state, and relocating wolves would make that happen faster, he said.

According to Washington’s wolf recovery plan, wolves will remain a protected species until at least 15 breeding pairs are documented across the state for three years. The pairs must be geographically dispersed so there are breeding pairs in Eastern Washington, north-central Washington and a zone that includes the south Cascades and Western Washington.

Environmental groups also support faster colonization.

“The South Cascades has the best wolf habitat in the state because of the prey base,” said Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest’s executive director. In addition to the Yakima elk herd, with about 10,000 animals, the area contains the St. Helens herd, which is infected with a bacterial hoof disease.

“The state is hiring gunners to mercy-kill some of those elk. Wolves would do a better job,” Friedman said.

But the southern Cascades and the Olympic Peninsula, which also has good wolf habitat, are rural and conservative, much like Northeast Washington. Politically, it would be difficult to get the support to relocate wolves, Friedman said.

“There’s a big difference between wolves coming there on their own paws versus in a state pickup truck,” he said.

That’s one of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s concerns, said Dave Ware, the agency’s policy lead on wolves. In the Northern Rockies, anti-wolf advocates have never forgotten the federal government transplanted Canadian wolves into Yellowstone and Central Idaho.

“There’s that stigma that you brought them here, versus them moving in naturally,” Ware said.

The endeavor also would be costly and time consuming, he added. State biologists figure they would need to trap and transplant about 30 wolves – preferably in packs – to end up with several breeding pairs that would stick around in their new location.

Such an action would require thorough state and federal environmental analysis, which would take two to three years to complete. A wolf relocation pilot project, as outlined in Kretz’s bill, would cost about $1 million, according to state estimates.

In a few years, wolves will be establishing packs in the South Cascades on their own, Ware predicted. Wolf tracks have been documented northwest of Yakima, in the foothills of the Cascades, where credible sightings of multiple wolves also have occurred. Last spring, a photo of a wolf was taken in Klickitat County.

“They are bounding around. They’re looking,” Ware said. “It’s just a matter of time before a male and female find each other and decide to start a pack.”

But Kretz said livestock producers in Northeast Washington need faster action to protect their animals from wolf attacks. He and Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, also are sponsoring or co-sponsoring several other wolf bills.

Also on the agenda for today’s hearing are bills that would order the Fish and Wildlife Department to manage wolf problems with “lethal means” under certain circumstances and give the Fish and Wildlife Commission more leeway in changing a state endangered species classification.

Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate, allowing state endangered species to be declassified by region. If adopted, it would allow the state to manage wolves differently in the eastern one-third of Washington than in other parts of the state.

“We’re putting out a number of ideas,” Short said. “We’re saying we just need some relief.”

copyrighted wolf in river

3 thoughts on “WA legislation proposes relocating wolves

  1. Hah! Livestock producers “just need some relief”! Very funny. It’s not like they’re from a shamelessly subsidized industry that causes massive environmental degradation and persecution of wildlife, is it? I suspect that the kind of “relief” I envision might be a little different than the kind of “relief” they’re seeking.

  2. Predation solutions to Encroachment; Control the Hunter-Rancher War on Wildlife and counter the mythology and folklore that supports it.
    Get wildlife-encroaching cattle and sheep out of the wilderness. Stop wildlife agencies and hunters from farming elk and deer in the wilderness and their attempts to marginalize the predators or even eliminate them.
    A sheep rancher (2014) turned 1,800 sheep loose on rugged hillside land in eastern Washington on an allotment — a lease — and then complained about wolf predation and wanted the wildlife agency to do something about the wolves. Ranchers in the Tetons of Wyoming placed cattle in prime predator country, then complained about predation and want “balanced” treatment of the predators.
    Ranchers and supportive legislators want to move wolves in WA (February 2014-2015) from wolf populated areas to areas not yet populated so as to expedite re-population and delisting by sooner rather than later meeting the criteria for delisting; 15 breeding pairs dispersed across the state and successfully breeding for 3 years. If left alone wolves will do this about as soon or sooner than this idea would take to carry forth.
    Hunters and ranchers and conservative legislators in the wolf jihad states want a war on wolves and sometimes lions and bears and want to basically farm sport targets in the wilderness. Idaho sent a professional hunter into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness to kill a pack of wolves so there would be more elk for hunters to kill.
    Ranchers should not be allowed leases in the wilderness or prime predator country. Ranching is taking up more and more public land — 23,000 grazing permits in 16 western states. Ranchers are on public land, complaining about predators and bison, and some even resent sharing forage with grazing wildlife. Turning cattle or sheep loose in back country is predator baiting. Ranchers are not seeking balance with wildlife; they are seeking power and control of public land and the killing of predators on that land.
    There are two basic hunter-rancher myths here that persist across time and place usually supported by the wildlife agencies: (1) Wolves decimate stock. No wolf depredation of cattle is about 0.002%, which is negligible and sheep less than 1%. Ranchers would have even less with better management of stock. (2) Wolves will decimate elk and deer herds. No, they do not and wolves are good for the health of ungulate herds.
    We, as a society, need to start retiring public land leases, not expanding them. Allow no more encroachment and set rules of living with wildlife instead of against it on leased public land; stop the hunter-rancher war on wildlife, albeit a tradition.

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