OLYMPIA — A proposed bill would support the full recovery of gray wolves in Washington state, as well as protect the livestock industry and their coexistence with wolves.
House Bill 2097 was co-sponsored by 11 bipartisan representatives and introduced by the Deputy Minority Leader Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda.
The gray wolf, otherwise known as Canis lupus, is protected under state law and the federal Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of Washington, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Wolves in the eastern third of Washington were removed from federal protection on May 5, 2011.
“I think this is a pretty modest attempt to bring some solutions,” said Kretz at a public hearing on Friday. The primary sponsor has been working to perfect this bill for many years, he explained.
HB 2097 requires the department to immediately review the status of the gray wolf as an endangered, threatened or sensitive species to determine if the population is no longer in danger.
Under the Conservation and Management Plan, the gray wolf will be considered for removal from the the Endangered Species Act if the department discovers more than 18 successful breeding pairs, distributed within each recovery region.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission must consider a change in the statewide or regional listing status upon the review, the bill states.
Neil Beaver, testified as other on behalf of The Lands Council in Spokane because of disagreements about delisting processes. He hopes to bridge the gap between long term problems that exist within the Northeast Washington forests, such as overgrown meadows that deter cows from herding themselves for protection.
“We are certainly interesting in bringing parties together to resolve the social conflict and find long term solutions so wolves and cows can exist in Northeast Washington,” said Beaver.
The legislation aims to manage the conflict between wolves and livestock in order to improve public acceptance of the animal in rural areas as the population grows. To maintain the economic value of the livestock industry, the bill intends to expand funding to minimize the need for the lethal removal of wolves.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has provided assistance toward developing many non-lethal control methods, such as secure fencing, guard dogs and hazing or scaring devices.
Kretz described his district as having about 90 percent of the wolves in the state. They have been seen in people’s backyards, as well as at ranches and farms in the country, he explained.
“Every rancher’s main job is to take care of your animals,” Kretz said. “If we don’t do something, even this tiny modest approach, I don’t know if I can go back and look anybody in the eye and tell them to hang on a little longer.”