By Phuong Le Associated Press
SEATTLE — It’s not the first time someone in eastern Washington has suggested relocating gray wolves west of the Cascades Range, but one tongue-in-cheek bill introduced this year highlights real divisions over what to do with the endangered predators.
Lamenting that “the entire citizenship of the state has not been fully able to enjoy the re-establishment of this majestic species,” a Republican lawmaker suggests moving some of the animals to western Washington.
“OK, all of you who love wolves and advocate them in the state, I want you to be able to share in all the benefits in having a wolf pack,” said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, who represents the northeast corner of the state where many of Washington’s eight confirmed packs roam.
“It’s a stupid bill, and it’s a waste of our resources,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island.
Kretz’s measure, House Bill 1258, suggests moving gray wolves to the Olympic Peninsula and the San Juan Islands — a jab, Ranker noted, directed at him, since the plan would send the animals to his district. Ranker was a vocal critic of last fall’s state-sanctioned killing of a wolf pack that had repeatedly killed on rancher’s cattle in Stevens County.
The bill has not gotten a hearing in the Democrat-led House, but similar sentiments have been echoed over the years as the state has wrestled with how to handle wolves that have recolonized the state faster than expected.
In 2008, there were only a handful of wolves. This year, there are eight confirmed and four suspected wolf packs, numbering between 51 and 100 animals. All are on the eastern side of the state, and many in that region have complained that they bear the burden of the state’s wolf recovery efforts.
Eastern Washington legislators have introduced a slew of bills that would give ranchers and local counties more leeway to deal with gray wolves.
Among the measures, Senate Bill 5187 and House Bill 1191 would allow livestock owners to shoot and kill wolves that threaten their livestock without first obtaining a permit from the state.
Wolf advocates and others oppose the measures, saying it would hurt the state’s wolf recovery efforts and contradicts years of efforts put into hashing out a state wolf plan.
Citizens currently can get a caught-in-the-act permit to kill wolves, but only after the state has determined that wolves have killed or injured their livestock. Two such permits were issued last year, though neither was used, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“I think we all understand that the wolves are here, and they’re here to stay,” said Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, sponsor of HB1191. “But it’s disingenuous for the other side to say ‘deal with it’ without giving folks over here any options.”
Another proposal, Senate Bill 5188, would allow local counties to declare that wolves are a threat to livestock and allow local sheriffs to kill wolves, currently the domain of the Fish and Wildlife Department.
“We should stay the course and let our quality plan guide us,” Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, told lawmakers at a hearing last month. “Change can be disruptive and wolves are bringing a lot of drama and at times trauma. But after a time we’ll adjust, and wolves will no longer feel so new and upsetting.”
Gray wolves are protected as an endangered species throughout the state. The animals are federally listed as endangered only in the western two-thirds of the state.
The state’s wolf plan, approved in 2011 after three years of meetings, requires 15 breeding pairs of wolves to be established for three years in all regions of the state before they could be removed from endangered status and their populations could be controlled. A breeding pair means a male and a female raising two or more pups in a given year.
Relocation isn’t unheard of. The state’s wolf management plan says it’s an important conservation tool, and Conservation Northwest says it supports moving wolves to speed up recovery.
Other wolf-related measures include:
Senate Bill 5193/House Bill 1219 would reclassify wolves as big game similar to bears and cougars, creates a special wolf license plate and pays compensation for wolf kills of animals regardless of whether they’re raised for sale.
Senate Bill 5079 creates a dedicated general fund to compensate ranchers for livestock losses. It passed out of committee and awaits action by the Senate Ways and Means committee. It has support from ranching groups and some wolf advocates.
Senate Bill 5300 prohibits livestock owners from receiving compensation for damages to livestock caused by wolves unless they have a cooperative agreement with the state.
House Bill 1501 allows the state to compensate livestock owners at market value for animals killed or injured by wolves and creates a special wolf license plate, among other provisions.
House Bill 1337 says gray wolves can only be listed as endangered or threatened in areas of the state where the gray wolf is also listed for federal protection.