Wildlife Commission ordered to consider gray wolf management changes

Jan 15, 2024

Gray wolves, and the activists who support them, have posed challenges since they arrived. Now, Gov. Inslee is adding to the challenge by ordering the Fish and Wildlife Commission to change their gray wolf management policies to align more closely with activists’ demands.

Late last week, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife announced it would begin rulemaking for lethal removal of gray wolves after it was ordered by the governor to do so. The order stems from an appeal of the current management plan by environmental groups which claim Washington state has killed too many wolves since their return in 2007. In 2022, only two gray wolves were lethally removed after repeated predations on livestock.

Washington Wildlife First President Claire Loebs Davis called people who support the current management plan “entrenched special interests” in the group’s press release on the matter. 

By caving to entrenched special interest groups like Washington Wildlife First, the governor is showing a cavalier disregard for the livelihoods of numerous food producers throughout the state. However, some areas of the state have borne the burden of safely establishing the gray wolf population more than others.

The apex predators have flourished in the northeastern part of the state, preying on deer, elk, livestock, and domestic animals for nearly 20 years. Current population counts note 30 of the 37 identified wolf packs in Washington State are clustered in Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, and Spokane counties. 

That is an area totaling about 8.5 million acres or about 19 percent of the total acres in our state. Meaning 81 percent of our gray wolf population is occupying just 19 percent of Washington state.

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Yet, the current gray wolf management plan that residents and ranchers have been following is not enough for environmental activists. Under the current management plan, there are up to 12 essential actions that must be implemented before a gray wolf can be lethally removed. Staff from the Department of Fish and Wildlife use the list of essential actions as a checklist when considering lethal removal of a wolf.

In addition to the essential actions checklist, a protocol was established to guide agency staff in lethal removal decisions. Under the protocol, the first consideration is the essential actions checklist followed by the caveat that lethal removal is to be used specifically when non-lethal measures have failed.

When is enough enough for activist groups? If a livestock owner has followed every checklist and protocol to the letter, caught-in-the-act or organized lethal removal of a predator by agency staff is the only option left for people trying to protect their animals and livelihoods. 

As recently as last spring, the Department of Fish and Wildlife proposed “downlisting” gray wolves from an endangered species to a sensitive species for the state. The change in status for the species recognizes that the overall population has rebounded and meets all recovery criteria but one: dispersal throughout every region of Washington state. The recommendation specifically reads, “WDFW’s draft recommendation is to reclassify the wolf to State Sensitive, “vulnerable or declining and is likely to become endangered or threatened in a significant portion of its range within the state without cooperative management or removal of threats” (WAC 220-610-110). This status reflects the significant progress toward recovery that Washington’s wolf population has made since the original state listing in 1980 but recognizes that wolves remain vulnerable in western Washington and should continue to be managed for recovery within the state as a protected species.”

Proper management of the gray wolf population in our state is critically important. Gray wolves that are habituated to prey on livestock and domestic animals should be culled when it becomes clear all other means of deterrent have failed. 

By catering to activists, the governor is choosing to abandon the 81 percent of gray wolves in the state to the increased frustration of the people most effected by their presence. Rather than pushing livestock and domestic animal owners to the edge of their patience, the state should continue to work toward goals that create harmonious co-existence between our state’s predators and their prey owners.