Wolves in northeastern Washington, under the gun because of reported conflicts with cattle ranchers, have found a powerful ally. This week, Gov. Jay Inslee weighed in on his state’s controversial killings of more than two dozen wolves in this region in recent years. In a letter Inslee asked the state’s department of fish and wildlife director, Kelly Susewind, to prioritize non-lethal solutions to the conflicts, pointing out that the state’s wolf killings have resulted in “public concern and outrage.”
“The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable,” Gov. Inslee wrote. “I share the public’s concern and am troubled that the Wolf Plan does not appear to be working as intended in this particular area in Northeast Washington.”
Most of the estimated 126 wolves in Washington live in the state’s northeastern corner, which is also the site of several federal cattle grazing allotments. In 2011, Congress removed federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the eastern third of the state, as well as in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the eastern part of Oregon. In other words, these states are free to call for the killing of wolves in response to livestock-wolf conflicts.
But as we showed in our report on wolf-livestock conflicts earlier this year, the killing of wolves is not a solution in such cases. Washington officials should know this – the state wiped out its population of wolves in the 1930s, also over reports of livestock conflicts, and it was only in 2008 that wolves finally began to return to the state.
Washington actually has one of the nation’s strongest state-based management plans to minimize wolf-livestock conflicts. The Wolf Advisory Group, a diverse body of stakeholders, which includes the Humane Society of the United States, other wildlife advocacy groups, ranchers and hunters, provides the Department of Fish and Wildlife with guidance on strategies to reduce conflicts with wolves. The WAG is an intriguing model for what progressive wolf conflict collaboration can look like on the state level. As members of the WAG we have seen the great strides that can be made through honest and respectful dialogue between traditionally opposing parties. Certainly, it stands in stark contrast to the approach of neighboring states like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, which allow the killing of hundreds of wolves each year, by trophy hunters, trappers, and over reports of livestock depredation.
While we are deeply saddened by the killing of wolves in the northeastern region of Washington, as members of the WAG we have appreciated the opportunity to sit down with traditional adversaries, push for progressive protections and find solutions that will lead to less killing as well as bring about a better understanding and social acceptance of the animals themselves. We have seen remarkable progress – in Washington, the number of cattle producers now using proactive non-lethal deterrents is at an all-time high, and a majority of wolves in the state are not in conflict with ranchers.
We are heartened by Gov. Inslee’s support for ending the killing of wolves in northeastern Washington, and we hope the Department of Fish and Wildlife will take note. Just today, we received the heartbreaking news that the breeding female member of the Grouse Flats wolf pack in the southeast corner of the state has been killed, following reports of depredations on private land. Meanwhile, we also need to ward off another threat that now looms large on the horizon, one that emanates from Washington, DC. There, the Trump administration has proposed a federal rule that would prematurely strip Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the lower 48 states, and if that happens, wolves all over Washington – and not just in the northeastern part of the state – could potentially be in the crosshairs of trophy hunters.
In anticipation of the eventual delisting of wolves at the state and federal level, Washington is starting the process of developing a “post-recovery management plan” for wolves, and is now accepting public comments to determine what topics to address in the plan. We want to ensure that such a post-recovery management plan in Washington does not include recreational trophy hunting or trapping of wolves.
Gov. Inslee has taken a step to make every resident of his state proud. If you live in Washington, we urge you to submit a comment telling the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to keep trophy hunting and trapping out of the post-recovery state management plan for wolves. There have already been too many wolf killings in the Evergreen State, and adding more into the mix should be out of the question.