Governor Inslee requests new rule-making on Washington’s wolf management

Governor Inslee requests new rule-making on Washington’s wolf management

Conservation Northwest / Sep 11, 2020 / Ranching, Range Riding, Wolves

Continued collaboration on behalf of coexistence will be critical for wolves and Washingtonians

Conservation Northwest shares concerns with other wolf advocates and wildlife-loving Washingtonians regarding repeated livestock depredation and wolf lethal removal incidents in parts of northeast Washington, particularly the Kettle Range and Wedge area. We have been vocal about our objections and recommendations in recent statements.

We also respect the right of citizens to petition their government and express their voices regarding management of public resources, especially wildlife still listed as Endangered by the State of Washington (wolves have been federally delisted across approximately the eastern third of our state, where more than 15 packs roam).

However, we have reservations about the recent decision from Governor Jay Inslee to direct the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission (Commission) to conduct rule-making for how the state responds to wolf-livestock conflicts. We’re concerned about how this move will impact collaboration for conflict prevention and tolerance for wolves in rural areas, and the potential that it will actually lead to less conflict avoidance and more dead wolves.

A wolf track photographed this spring in an area where range riders operate. Photo: Jay Shepherd

The public rule-making requested by the Governor could essentially replace the Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol (Protocol)—guidance developed over years of collaboration and scientific input through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Wolf Advisory Group (WAG)—with formal regulations. Several court rulings have upheld the existing Protocol, affirming it flows from the state’s 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (Wolf Plan), a comprehensive document that previously underwent rule-making and public comment in accordance with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

We are unsure of what may come out of the new rule-making process and whether the final regulation will be better or worse than the current Protocol. Public input and Commission decision-making will not have the benefit of a setting where participants take the time to understand where other stakeholders are coming from. Nor is it easy to replicate the same degree of vigorous review and discussion around both social and biological science related to wolf-livestock management that has been undertaken by the WAG and WDFW staff.

Our biggest concern is whether new rules at the Governor’s request will create backlash and a lower acceptance of implementing non-lethal measures.

More than a decade of effort has gone into collaborative uptake of conflict avoidance efforts in Washington wolf territory, including five years of working under the current WAG framework to develop the existing Protocol (with improved range riding expectations about to be finalized.) The work of getting rancher acceptance and implementation of high-quality deterrence measures on-the-ground is expensive and time consuming. We question whether a regulations-based approach will get better results than the current approach of WAG-negotiated protocols, which provide the WDFW Director discretion to wait to use lethal removal beyond the prescribed thresholds until more attempts at non-lethal measures have been tried, as well as provide the ranching and agricultural community ownership of non-lethal conflict avoidance measures.

Conservation Northwest believes Washington can be the state where wolf recovery, conservation, and management work in the long run; for people, wolves and all the Northwest’s wildlife. Our approach to wolf-human coexistence work for the past 12 years has been to advocate for sensible policies that emphasize proactive deterrence, build buy-in from ranchers for non-lethal tactics, work with and pressure WDFW to implement these protocols with as much technical skill and discernment as possible, work with the legislature to ensure ongoing funding for proactive deterrence measures, and most importantly, provide on-the-ground tools to protect livestock and keep wolves safe.

Lookout Pack wolf in the Methow Valley, north-central Washington, photographed by our Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project. Photo: CNW

While none of this has been perfect, and we have expressed disagreement with some of the Department’s decisions and never like to see lethal removal have to occur, especially annually in chronic conflict areas, Washington’s record on wolf management compares quite favorably to that of the Northern Rocky Mountain states at similar points in recovery.

This is the 13th year of having wolves back in Washington, and so far three wolves have been removed, which is two percent of the known minimum population of 145 wolves at the end of 2019. In 2007, the 13th year since the first Yellowstone wolf reintroduction, in the Northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, 186 wolves were lethally removed for livestock depredations, or 11 percent of the minimum known number of wolves. The Wyoming removals constituted 24 percent of their minimum count outside of Yellowstone National Park.

More recently, Idaho killed 570 wolves between the fall of 2019 and spring of 2020 through lethal removal and hunting/trapping, which was likely close to or potentially more than 50 percent of their wolf population. This is not the future we want to see here in Washington.

We are also looking to the post-recovery phase when wolves are no longer state listed. It will be even more important to have increased and sustainable voluntary buy-in for proactive deterrence measures at that time, including as wolves expand their population in Western Washington, with some conflicts anticipated. We will need broadly accepted and supported non-lethal approaches to keep both domestic animal and wolf mortality to the lowest numbers possible.

While we have concerns with this latest twist in Washington’s wolf recovery saga, we remain committed to working with all parties on behalf of conservation and coexistence. We will roll up our sleeves to work in this new rule-making setting, and we hope for the best outcome for both wolves and people. We urge all involved in the process to take into account what it takes to achieve long-term coexistence.

Read more about wolf-livestock conflict management IN OUR JULY STATEMENT, or learn more about our work for WOLF RECOVERY and COEXIESTENCE
The end of 2019 confirmed minimum wolf pack map from WDFW. The Diobsud Creek wolf territory is shown, though the pack’s mate could not be confirmed in 2019. Map: WDFW