WA Wolf Bills ‘Spectacular In Their Awfulness’

A spokeswoman for an organization working on wolf, wildlife and wildland issues in Washington is panning a trio of Canis lupus-related bills introduced in Olympia last week.

“They are spectacular in their awfulness and in the way they distort the truth,” says Jasmine Minbashian of Bellingham-based Conservation Northwest about House Bills 1107, 1108 and 1109, which we reported on yesterday.

She predicts a quick death for them.

One of her coworkers, Derrick Knowles, a Spokane hunter, is among the 17 members on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Wolf Working Group which since 2007 has helped shape the state’s draft wolf management plan.

It is expected to be finalized this year, but under HB 1109, would first have to come to the Legislature for approval. If lawmakers give it a thumbs down, it would have to go back to WDFW for revisions.

“Never in history has the state legislature been required to approve a recovery plan for an endangered species,” says Minbashian. “Eleven-oh-nine would allow politics to interfere with science and collaborative decision-making – making the problem worse not solving it.”

In a sense, the bill echoes what happened at the national level last fall when several Congressmen introduced legislation to remove wolves from the endangered species list after the animals were put back under federal protections throughout the Northern Rockies in August, and in Idaho in the early 2000s when the Legislature washed the Department of Fish & Game’s hands of wolves. Management was then turned over to the Nez Perce tribe.

HB 1107 would require the state Department of Health to work with WDFW and the state vet to “implement a program to detect, interdict, and assess the epidemiological consequences of diseases that may afflict or may be carried by wolves and the actual and potential impact of wolves’ role in such diseases upon human health in the state,” as well as identify people whose jobs or lifestyles might put them at higher risk to the illnesses.

Minbashian says it “unnecessarily stirs up fears about wolves and disease, not to mention wasting money.”

Fears of one that 1107 would screen for, hydatid disease, have been fanned in the past but seem to have calmed down of late. Ed Bangs, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s lead for wolves in the region, has told me you basically have to eat the poo of infected animals to catch it.

“Good hygiene and simple precautions will greatly reduce or even eliminate the risk,” says Minbashian. “But creating a big government program is overkill and, frankly, a tactic to scare people.”

As for 1108, in Minbashian’s reading, it would:

“Circumvent a four-year, collaborative process to develop a balanced, scientifically based wolf management plan for Washington;

“Challenge the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect wolves in Washington and make it virtually impossible for the state to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on wolf recovery;

“Support wolf poaching by prohibiting the citation or arrest of anyone who illegally kills a wolf.”

The bill sets the wolf population bar at 150 and would also tie Washington’s management to how successful deer and elk hunters are over three-year periods.

“It makes the entirely false and outrageous claim that wolves are having a negative impact on deer and elk populations in Washington without any factual evidence to back it up,” Minbashian says. “According to recent reports it seems like big game populations (and hunter success rates) in Washington are as high as ever – especially in Northeast Washington where we know we have wolves.”

Wolves have also been in the Methow Valley since at least 2008, but preliminary data from a voluntary hunter checkpoint and state stats show that hunters here have also enjoyed the best seasons since 2005 in recent years.

However, in some parts of Montana and Idaho, elk hunter success rates have plummeted since wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s, though many herds also remain at or above management goals.

“Overall, I think these bills will die a quick death in the legislature. There’s just not the public support out there for this kind of radicalism,” Minbashian says.

She points to a 2009 mail survey of 4,183 Washington residents that, according to a draft posted on WDFW’s site, found 74.5 percent were in favor of allowing wolves to recolonize on their own, 65.9 percent were in favor of killing wolves that kill livestock, 69.8 percent were in favor of limiting wolves in areas where they were heavily impacting game herds, and 63.5 percent were in favor of wolf hunts once state recovery goals were met.

However, over 50 percent were against compensating ranchers for cow, sheep and other animal losses.

“The sad thing is that the sponsors don’t realize how good our wolf plan really is for hunters and ranchers,” Minbashian says. “It has provisions for managing wolves in areas where they may be having a problematic impact on deer and elk populations. It has probably the best compensation package in the West.”

After Rep. David Taylor, who cosponsored 1107, 1108 and 1109, filed a request last year for any and all things wolfish at WDFW, the amount of email traffic between Conservation Northwest and the agency raised his eyebrows.

“If you’re putting in time and money, there is some sort of payback – influence in the [wolf] plan or something,” he told me last fall.

But unlike some wildlife advocacy groups, Conservation Northwest’s tack appears to be to work towards common solutions that benefit, among others, hunters.

Though the organization opposed WDFW’s pitch to introduce turkeys into Whatcom County a couple years ago, it’s also working on the Columbia Highlands Initiative, a big-tent effort to get Congress to aside around 215,000 acres in the Colville National Forest as new wilderness as well as keep local mills in business with a guaranteed supply of saw logs from an area at least twice that size.

It has drawn support from loggers, ranchers, outdoor recreationists as well as hunters such as Tony Heckard and Gregg Bafundo of Washington Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Leonard Wolf of the Spokane chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation, Richard Mathieson of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council and John Campbell of Pend Oreille Valley Sportsman in Newport. The effort is being led by the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition.

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