What Wolf Delisting Means (So Far) In WA, OR

If you’ve read any of the myriad of news accounts about wolves, the national budget battle and delisting that have come out over the past week or so, you may be wondering what it all means for management of Canis lupus in Washington and Oregon.

Though both states have relatively small populations — a minimum of 18 and maybe up to 25 in the former, and at least 23 in the latter — they have large chunks of real estate that are part of the Northern Rocky Mountains distinct population segment, or DPS, where wolves will be taken off the list of endangered species when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service resubmits its April 2009 delisting on the Federal Register, as ordered by Congress.

On the south side of the Columbia, Oregon Public Broadcasting posted a segment with a quote from an ODFW spokeswoman:

Beth Hyams: …  Is Oregon ready to take over wolf management?

Cassandra Profita: Actually, the state is pretty well prepared for this transition. U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service delisted the wolves in 2009, and before the court threw that decision out, Oregon got a chance to put its own wolf management plan to the test for a about a year. I spoke with Michelle Dennehy. She’s a spokeswoman for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. She said state management won’t be much different from what the feds have been doing because Oregon’s wolves are still protected as a state endangered species, and those protections aren’t going to be lifted anytime soon.

Michelle Dennehy: “Right now we can account for 23 wolves in Oregon. We have low numbers of wolves in Oregon. We’re not going to be looking at a delisting of wolves from the state Endangered Species Act until we get four breeding pairs for three consecutive years, and we haven’t even reached four breeding pairs yet.”

In Washington, the effect is to split the state into two wolf management zones, a western and an eastern. They’re divided by Highways 97, 17 and 395 through Okanogan, Douglas, Grant, Adams, Franklin and Benton Counties.

To the east of that line, where there are at least two different groups of wolves in the Northeast corner and probably another in the Blues, the animals will still be under state protection as an endangered species, says Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife spokeswoman Madonna Luers in Spokane.

WDFW will also have “management authority” over them, where before USFWS did, she says.

So, when someone reports wolf tracks or a dead calf in that zone, it will be Luers and others at the state agency who pick up the phone and take the lead in figuring out what to do, based on a 14-page PDF known as the “Wolf Response Guidelines.”

However, when it comes to livestock depredations, she says that WDFW will continue to work with USDA Wildlife Services. She notes that some state staffers have received training on telltale signs of wolf kills from experts like now-retired federal biologist Carter Niemeyer and others. So far there has been only one confirmed stock death tied to wolves in Washington.

Luers says that to the west of the three highways, wolves “remain both state and federally listed as endangered.” So, in the Cascades and Western Washington, USFWS remains the lead response agency.

She says delisting “will not be an impact to the timeline or content of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan/EIS” that her agency and its Wolf Working Group have spent the past few years on and will meet in Ellensburg in June to discuss before sending to the Fish & Wildlife Commission.

One thing it does do, however, is decrease the penalties for poaching in now-state-managed areas. There, under RCW 77.15.120, it’s a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for first-time offenders who kill state endangered species while those with previous convictions for doing so face up to $10,000 in fines and a year in jail.

That said, Doug Zimmer, a USFWS spokesman says that he definitely wouldn’t want to be the first to test delisting out on the 509 side of the state.

“This hasn’t been done before. This will be interesting,” he says.

In the western two-thirds of the state, killing a wolf remains a Federal crime and is punishable by up to a $100,000 criminal fine, a $25,000 civil fine and up to a year in jail.

As for any wolf hunt in Washington, Luers told the Spokesman-Review‘s Becky Kramer that that’s a long, long ways off.

First, the agency and the WWG have to finalize a management plan which will set a goal for what constitutes a recovered population. Right now, that’s 15 breeding pairs over three years with certain numbers in three subregions of the state, though a minority on the WWG want half that and during public comment others called for twice that and for a fourth subregion.

Then the FWC has to sign off on the plan.

And then the Wildlife Program would have to figure out a season structure and have the FWC sign off on that.

But as with the rest of the state’s game, to hold a season, first you must have a huntable/fishable population. At this point, how successful wolves will be in Washington remains an open question.

Both Oregon and Washington maintain wolf management pages online. ODFW’s features monthly wolf activity reports (March’s just came out earlier this week) while WDFW sources tell me they will be trying to post something similar this year.

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