Wolf Plan Comments Out

The comments range from the short and terse — “Well written”; “CRAP !!!!” — to pages-long analysis by skeptical tribal biologists and wolf advocates, to a Defenders of Wildlife petition that reads, in part, “It is heartbreaking that the Emerald State has been deprived of wolves …”

The Emerald State?

Ahem, it’s the Evergreen State, thank you.

That’s just a sampling of what you’ll find in the 60,000-plus comments on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s draft wolf management plan posted online yesterday afternoon.

A final plan for the Fish & Wildlife Commission is still a year away, a revised timeline shows, but that may be affected by a bill lawmakers from rural districts of the state are putting together for the next legislative session. See the November issue of Northwest Sportsman for more on that front.

Meanwhile, since the anniversary of Elvis’s birthday last January, WDFW staffers have been wading through all the letters, postcards, petitions and audio testimony they recieved following a three-month-long comment period. They’ve sorted it all out into six broad categories:

Letters — 524 from government, conservation organizations, livestock interests, hunting groups, legislators, others and individuals.

Online comments, 3,383 on everything from the plan’s executive summary to the chances of a wolf-based tourism industry growing in Washington

Public testimony, 254 taken during last fall’s twelve meetings held around the state

Six petitions

Six different form letters

And five different form postcards.

Added together, it’s proof of how charged an issue wolf recovery is, and how passionate are advocates and opponents alike.

“It reaffirms, with no real surprise, the feelings on the issue,” confirms Rocky Beach, WDFW’s wildlife diversity manager in Olympia.

The Defenders of Wildlife petition had the most signers, some 57,764, most of which were from outside Washington state — and indeed, over 11 percent of the names on the list appear to have come from as far across the world as Alice Springs, Bangkok, Cape Town, Denmark and elsewhere outside the U.S.

Those who contributed their mark agreed:

I strongly support efforts to fully restore wolves to Washington State.

It is heartbreaking that the Emerald State has been deprived of wolves since the extensive wolf extermination campaigns of the late 1800s eliminated these magnificent animals from Washington, and I was very happy to learn that two packs have made their way back to eastern Washington.

Historically, wolves have not only played an important role in balancing ecosystems in Washington. They also figure prominently in Washington’s rich cultural heritage, particularly in the creation stories of the Quileute Native American tribe of coastal Washington …

Fast forward a few millenia and a letter WDFW received from a neighboring coastal tribe shows that the Makah Tribal Council has serious problems with the plan, especially translocating wolves to the Olympic Peninsula where local deer herds are struggling with hair-louse issues and elk reproduction is well below other regions.

Deer and elk populations are vitally important to the Makah Tribe for subsistence and ceremonial uses. Although the Tribe recognizes that the wolf holds cultural importance to Makahs, at this time … the ungulate populations Makah hunters rely on for subsistence are of significantly higher priority. Introduction of another predator into an already diverse predator community would be detrimental to these ungulate populations.

Adds the chair of the Muckleshoot Tribe’s Wildlife Committee:

“If wolves are added to the mix without flexible management options the results could have substantial negative impacts to all tribal members.”

The Muckleshoot refuse to reduce their harvest, and call on state hunters to instead lower theirs.

The draft plan’s current preferred option calls for a minimum of 15 breeding pairs in three regions of the state for three years in a row as the recovery goal before lifting state protections.

Translocation — moving wolves around inside the state — is under consideration.

One apparently hand-drawn petition signed by 39 people states, “We the people wish and intensely desire that wolves be translocated to the Olympic National Park. Also we would love to see the number of breeding pairs increased from fifteen to fify (sic).”

The superintendent of that park is among government officials who sent letters. Karen Gustin as well as the chiefs at North Cascades and Mt. Rainier National Parks say that adding a fourth recovery area on the Olympic Peninsula “will allow the state to reach its recovery objectives and meet NPS objectives of restoring extirpated species and restoring ecosystem function in NPS units.”

The Kittitas County Field & Stream club and head of the Washington State Trappers Association don’t like any of WDFW’s options on the table.

Letters from hunters show we worry about the affect wolves will have on big-game herds:

There is no reason why we should intoduce more wolves or increase their population. As a hunter there isn’t enough game right now for me to fill my tags. You will be absoulty nuts if you increase the wolf population. Take a look at Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. I use to hunt there and now I don’t because of wolves. There is no game …

Stan Bauer,  Graham

I ask that you allow hunting wolves to be part of any final draft plan. To not do so will severly effect WDFW revenue as hunters will not purchese tags or hunt in areas that are depleted of game with no way to address the problem. I am willing to accept wolf reintroduction but I ask that it be done with the intelligence that hunting wolves will be needed to balance the ecosystem.

Jayson Hills,  East Wenatchee WA

I am a hunter. My favorite hunts are the ones deep into the wilderness areas of our state. The return of the wolf to these remote areas is not only unavoidable but critical to true, healthy wilderness. How can you have a wilderness void of the last great predator? Of course I’m concerned about how my elk and deer will fare and I’m sure there will be areas where we will see a decline in their numbers as the wolves increase but with proper game management we can compensate for this. Eventually the proper balance will be reached. I feel that the wolf should be allowed to return and grow to healthy numbers then managed like we manage all our game animals. While I would never kill a wolf if we can grow their numbers properly we can then manage them. I can only hope that some day on a hunt deep into the Pasaytan wilderness I hear the song of a fellow predator. Only then will the wild return to wilderness. Good luck.

Gregg Bafundo,  Normandy Park WA

Some commenters mistakenly believe WDFW is actively planning on or currently reintroducing wolves into the state.

Others callously throw sportsmen under the wolf bus — never mind our contribution to the recovery of all kinds of critters the past 100 years.

A missive from Diane Weinstein says “Hunting of ungulates should also be restricted in wolf recovery areas to prevent the ‘Shoot, shovel, and shut up’ group from killing wolves.”

Yeah, thaaaaaaaaaaaat seems like it will lead to warm, fuzzy feelings between sportsmen, wolves and wolf advocates.

Scott Fisher, a Department of Natural Resources biologist once quoted in our magazine on wolves, has a better idea. His letter states:

“It is paramount to maintain as many management options as possible to ensure that people most likely to be impacted by wolves, especially those in rural landscapes who tend to be more anti-wolf in their opinions, feel like they have some control over their particular situation and are not at the mercy of forces or conditions elsewhere in the state.”

He suggests that rather than a statewide recovery goal, have one for the part of Washington where wolves are included in the Northern Rockies population and are recolonizing on their own.

Fisher adds that because Eastern Washington will likely meet recovery goals first, wolves from the region would be translocated west. However, he suggests that we don’t know for sure what sort of wolves actually occurred in the Cascades and Western Washington before they were wiped out. He calls on WDFW to perform an exhaustive review of museum specimens.

“It is important to maintain genetic diveresity and unique populations and translocating Rocky Mountain wolves into the Cascades may be as biologically inappropriate as it would be to translocate Mexican wolves into the Cascades.”

Form-letter and postcard campaigns generally call for upping the number of wolves required for recovery.

Others who submitted their comments include Northeast Washington county commissioners, state and regional conservation organizations as well as The Mountaineers and the Mount Olive Grange.

WDFW’s Rocky Beach says that in general, the written comments echo those that the agency has heard during 20 public meetings on wolves.

“Nothing really caught us by surprise,” adds Gary Wiles, another WDFW staffer who went through many of the documents.

Beach says that the next step is categorizing the comments by theme. Eight hundred separate ideas have been identified, he says, and those will be put into a spreadsheet and given answers.

By posting all the raw comments, Beach says the agency is trying to keep people in the loop.

“We’ve tried to show as much transparency as possible because of the interest in the issue,” he says.

Next month, the agency will also meet with its 17-member Wolf Working Group with an update on the plan and comments received. Then next spring, WDFW will come back to the group with more comments and possible tweaks to the plan, then bring a managment plan to the Fish & Wildlife Commission next August.

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One Response to “Wolf Plan Comments Out”

  1. Rural Legislators Question WDFW’s Wolf Info, Land Plans « Northwest Sportsman Says:

    […] the agency has posted the 65,000 public comments it collected last year. A final document now isn’t expected until next […]

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