Update on proposed Washington wolf legislation

Update on proposed Washington wolf legislation

Conservation Northwest / Feb 11, 2015 / Restoring Wildlife, Wolves

February 23rd Update: Several new wolf bills have been proposed and have advanced out of committee. Though we support HB 1676 (funding ungulate-wolf interaction research), we are strongly in opposition to SB 5583(regional species delisting) and we oppose SB 5960 (revising the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan) as it is currently written.
Conservation Northwest staff in Olympia and our partners in the conservation community are continuing to work closely with WDFW staff and state legislators, including those from Northeast Washington, to find a legislative compromise that works for both sustainable wolf recovery and for the people who live, work and recreate in Washington’s wolf country.

On Thursday, February 5th, 2015, Conservation Northwest wolf conflict specialist Jay Kehne and policy lead Paula Swedeen were at the Washington state capitol testifying on wolf bills in front of House and Senate committees.

More than seven wolf-related bills have been proposed during the current legislative session. Though it’s unlikely these bills will advance in their current form in this highly budget-focused session, we have concerns that if passed, some of these proposals would be a setback for the sustainable recovery of wolves in Washington and their management based on sound science and predator biology.

The exception to this is House Bill 1676, legislation regarding conducting research on the effects of wolf predation on ungulate populations. Conservation Northwest believes that peer reviewed and published scientific data is vitally important for good decision making when it comes to wolf and wildlife management. We support this proposal to fund new studies that help the state and other stakeholders better understand the impact wolves have or do not have on deer, elk, moose and other ungulate populations in Washington state.

Our staff was not in Olympia last week to testify against the interests of ranchers, farmers or residents of rural Washington. We recognize that as wolves have been naturally recovering in our state, there has been some conflict with livestock and domestic animals, occurrences that can cause a real financial and emotional strain on people working hard to make a living.

Though the vast majority of wolves and wolf packs choose to pursue natural prey, and there are proven and effective methods to help ranchers, farmers and rural residents coexist safely and successfully with predators, there is no 100% guarantee that conflict avoidance techniques or even the lethal removal of wolves will stop all depredations indefinitely.

That’s why we’re committed to continuing to work closely with ranchers and livestock operators, our partners in the conservation, recreation and hunting communities, and leadership at the state and county levels to find successful tactics to make wolf recovery work for people, wolves and other wildlife too. We believe this sort of collaborative coexistence is what’s best for Washington’s wolves and people in the long run, as well as for healthy natural ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest.

In this spirit, we have been in regular talks this session with state legislators from both parties, including those from districts in northeast Washington where the bulk of our state’s wolves currently reside, to understand everyone’s concerns and figure out what actions could be taken to satisfy those concerns in a collaborative manner that works for all sides.

Washington’s wolf recovery is at a critical juncture

Decisions made in 2015 can have a significant impact on the outcome of this vital native predator’s return to our state. This year we currently have;

  • new Director at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) who brings significant wolf experience as well as new ideas to support long term predator recovery and social tolerance,
  • An independent mediator recently hired by the state to take input from all sides and help improve our wolf recovery process,
  • An expanded Wolf Advisory Group consisting of 18 stakeholders now representing additional constituencies to provide better citizen feedback on WDFW wolf management activities,
  • And finally, with credible evidence of wolf activity reported recently in several areas south of Interstate 90 and northwest of Yakima, it’s highly possible wolves will be confirmed in the South Cascades sooner rather than later, a significant step towards statewide wolf recovery goals.

We need to give this new Director and mediator a chance to be successful, without undermining their work with uncertain and potentially risky changes. We need to let the citizens on the expanded Wolf Advisory Group provide input and oversight to WDFW within the framework agreed upon under the Wolf Plan. And we need to let wolves continue their natural resurgence across our state without handicapping that recovery by delisting them in any one region.

While we believe the proposals contained in some of the wolf legislation introduced this session are premature, we strongly support the collaborative headway that appears to be developing. Our hope is that it continues during the remainder of this 2015 legislation session.

The Washington Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was developed and agreed upon by a diverse group of stakeholders; including ranchers, farmers, hunters, conservationists, wildlife advocates and both urban and rural residents. Though there have been some setbacks in its implementation and the recovery of Washington’s wolves, the plan is working.

Let’s continue to work together and give this plan a chance before we threaten the sustainable recovery of gray wolves with proposals that have no guarantee of improving the lives or livelihoods of those working, recreating and residing in Washington wolf country.

Note on proposed legislation

While we are in opposition to House Bill 1199 / Senate Bill 5583, HB 1224, HB 1225, HB 1791, HB 1792 and HJM 4002 as they are currently drafted, we are open to the possibility of wolf translocation (HB 1224) to ensure that recovery goals are met in a timely manner, particularly for locations with quality wolf habitat isolated by geography or human development. But such an effort undertaken by WDFW or the state should be conducted within a thorough public process that includes community input. We are concerned that the current version of HB 1224 seeks to circumvent the public process laid out by State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requirements.

Additionally, we are supportive of HB 1676which requires WDFW to conduct a scientific, peer-reviewed study assessing the health of the state’s wild ungulate population in game management units that have experienced a change in predator population dynamics due to the recovery of gray wolves. Conservation Northwest believes that quality scientific data is vitally important for good decision making when it comes to wildlife management. We support this proposal to fund new studies that help the state and other stakeholders better understand the impact wolves and other predators have or do not have on deer and elk populations in Washington state.