Washington learning how to live with wolves

2013-01-19T00:00:00Z Washington learning how to live with wolvesRICH LANDERS The Spokesman-Review The Billings Gazette
January 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

How Washington will handle the gray wolves that are moving into the state and expanding at a rapid rate is a work in progress.

But while the methods are debatable, two things are not, state and federal wolf experts said in Spokane on Wednesday:

Wolves must be managed, and some wolves will be killed in the process.

If you're on the extremes, wanting all wolves killed or wanting all wolves protected, get over it.

It will take a collective effort and money to make wolf recovery work.

That was the bottom line in presentations by panelists related to the federal wildlife agency that's overseen the reintroduction of wolves in the Northern Rockies since the mid-1990s.

Spokane was the site of the first of three panel presentations the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department is holding to explain wolf management to the public as state legislators take more interest in the issue. The other two meetings are set for Western Washington.

"Wolves are the buzz in Washington," said Donny Martorello, WDFW carnivore manager

More than 300 people showed up Wednesday night — a crowd so large the session had to be moved to larger room at Centerplace in the Spokane Valley — for a panel presentation on the milestones and issues in wolf recovery to date.

From the wolf packs that established naturally in Glacier Park and the 1995-96 reintroductions of 66 wolves in Yellowstone and central Idaho, the former endangered species reached all the recovery goals in just six years — by 2002, Mike Jimenez, the federal coordinator for wolves in the Northern Rockies, said.

By 2011, there were at least 1,800 wolves in 287 packs.

Wolves expanded far beyond socially acceptable numbers in the 2000s as pro-wolf groups went to court to keep them listed as endangered species, said Carter Niemeyer, retired federal wolf specialist and author of the book "Wolfer."

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department's controversial decision to eliminate a wolf pack in northern Stevens County last summer was just a glimpse at more tough decisions to come, the panelists said.

Certainly more wolves are coming — from the 60,000-65,000 roaming Alaska and Canada and the packs in Idaho and Oregon.

Nonlethal methods of preventing wolves from killing livestock are being explored and will be emphasized, Martorello said.

But wolves have a biological, social and political track record in Idaho and Montana that can't be ignored.

While the impacts to big-game herds still haven't been detailed, the impact on livestock is easier to peg. In 2011 alone, 58 wolf packs were involved in cattle depredations in the Northern Rockies — killing 40 guard dogs in the process.

"The good news," Jimenez said, "is that 80 percent of the wolf packs were not involved in cattle depredations. That's the positive side.

"The major problems come when wolves fill out all the good wilderness habitat and expand into areas less suitable for wolves."

That moment in wolf recovery already has arrived in northeastern Washington, most cattlemen and sportsmen would say.

Our neighbors in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming give us this to look forward to:

More than 1,700 wolves have been killed in the wide range of management options to stem livestock losses. Management costs are more than $3.6 million.

In some years up to 23 percent of the wolf population has been killed by humans, yet the overall population of wolves continues to grow, Jimenez said.

Washington documented its first wolf pack in 2007. Today the state has eight confirmed packs and at least four more suspected packs for a total of up to 100 wolves, Martorello said.

Washington has seen a 40 percent increase in successful breeding pairs since last year, a 47 percent increase in the number of wolves and a 55 percent increase in the number of packs, he said.

"This kind of growth is phenomenal in wildlife populations. But the one other place you see it is in the other states involved in wolf reintroduction," Martorello said.

Niemeyer said: "I wish this state good luck. Washington and Oregon are unique. There are a lot of people on the West Side who want more wolves while people on the East Side have already had enough. But reasonable people can find a solution."

As for viewing wolves and getting a great wolf experience, Jimenez said the best option isn't likely to be in Washington, but rather in Yellowstone National Park.

"The Lamar Valley is as good as it gets," he said.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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