Eleven packs of wolves have recolonized northeastern Washington. Now besieged politicians from that area are seriously proposing to relocate some of those protected wolves to western and southwestern Washington, where there are none.
Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart crossed the Cascades to come to the State Capitol to ask for more aggressive management of wolves -- including moving some of them over the mountains.
"Time and time again, we're hearing of wolf incidents," McCart complained to a legislative panel. "Most of the people speaking in favor of wolves are not in the area affected. I would personally not like to see anybody go through the pain we're seeing in our area.”
“But think about it for a minute,” he continued. “If we are going to recover the wolf to the whole state, it needs to happen somehow. It's not happening naturally and one area is being disproportionately victimized by this."
Translocation of wolves drew support from Republican lawmakers at a legislative hearing, but the relevant committee chairman who represents southwest Washington quickly threw cold water on the idea.
"I have never supported translocation of wolf populations. That has not changed,” Democratic state Rep. Brian Blake insisted. "I think we are going to find that we are getting wolf populations into the South Cascades under the current process."
Washington's wolf management plan does contain a long term goal to have successful breeding pairs all across the state. The state Fish and Wildlife department has relied on natural dispersal to achieve that.
"The best place would be the Olympic Peninsula," Republican state Rep. Joel Kretz suggested. "A lot of lowland winter range for big game and not as much livestock conflict potential."
Kretz sponsored the bill to promote relocation. He also introduced four other measures that seek in various ways to speed up the removal of wolves from the state endangered species list. That would give ranchers and rural residents of his northeastern Washington legislative district more flexibility to use lethal measures against problem wolves.
The federal government has removed the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list in the Northern Rockies, Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington. But the animals retain protection in Oregon and Washington under state wildlife laws.
The Washington House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee heard many points of view on the best way to proceed with wolf management during a hearing on six related wolf bills on Thursday. Among those testifying was a rancher from Hunters, Washington who estimated he has lost 300 sheep to wolf depredations.
The group Defenders of Wildlife urged state lawmakers to hold their fire while the new leader of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife reviews the state's wolf policy. The new agency director, Jim Unsworth, was hired away from Idaho Fish & Game, which has a longer history managing wolves.
"Give him some time," said Shawn Cantrell, Northwest Regional Director for Defenders of Wildlife.