Published: July 1, 2022
This Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (2011 Final EIS) for the 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington (Wolf Plan) analyzes potential environmental impacts of alternative rule making options as a part of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) rule making proposal. This proposal was initiated in response to a decision by Governor Jay Inslee in September 2020 to grant a petition for rule making directed to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission relating to wolf management with the goal of instituting practices that will avoid the repeated loss of wolves and livestock in Washington.
The range of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) historically covered the state of Washington. Following nearly eight decades of extirpation from Washington, gray wolves began naturally recolonizing the state in the 1990s from populations in surrounding states and provinces. The first breeding pair was documented in Okanogan County in 2008, and Washington’s wolf population has grown at an average rate of 25 percent annually since then. Conflict between wolves and livestock has been documented everywhere the two coexist but is generally low and not uniform across the landscape. In Washington, 76 percent of known wolf packs were not involved in any documented livestock depredation in 2021 (average 86 percent from 2008 – 2021). When conflict between wolves and livestock does occur, it has the potential to become chronic and have significant economic impacts on individual livestock operations. WDFW focuses on promoting the proactive use of non-lethal deterrents to minimize wolf-livestock conflict and considers lethal removal as a last resort when those tools have not mitigated conflict.
The alternatives considered in the 2011 Final EIS include both lethal and non-lethal measures to mitigate wolf-livestock conflict. The alternatives presented for lethal control of wolves involved in repeated livestock depredations specify that lethal control is allowed consistent with state and federal law under all state-listed statuses, but do not provide or analyze criteria for use of lethal removal beyond a few general provisions.
Purpose and need for and objectives of wolf-livestock conflict deterrence rule making
The purpose and need for rule making is instituting practices that will avoid the repeated loss of livestock to wolf depredation and wolves to subsequent agency removal in Washington. Under the umbrella of the 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan goals, WDFW has identified two objectives for adopting new rules related to wolf management in Chapter 220-440 WAC:
- Establish procedure for identifying WDFW expectations for use of non-lethal tools to mitigate wolf-livestock conflict in areas of chronic conflict, while recognizing the use of non-lethal tools is encouraged statewide.
- Establish criteria for the use of WDFW’s lethal removal authority in areas of chronic wolf-livestock conflict.
The alternative rule making options considered below (including the no-action alternative) encompass a broad range of varying approaches that could meet the objectives of this rule making. The proposed alternatives in this Final SEIS address specific options for analysis that are not specifically addressed in the 2011 Final EIS for the Wolf Plan. The final action taken by the WDFW Fish and Wildlife Commission may not be identical to any single alternative; the WDFW Fish and Wildlife Commission may choose a hybrid approach that combines components of different alternatives, and/or more and less restrictive expressions of the components to best meet the environmental, social, economic, and political needs of the rule making.
Alternative 1: Develop a rule based on the 2017 Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol (Protocol) to establish general criteria for the use of non-lethal and lethal measures to mitigate wolf-livestock conflict.
Under Alternative 1, WDFW would use the criteria outlined in the Protocol to codify in rule the use of non-lethal and lethal measures to mitigate wolf-livestock conflict. The components of the rule based on the Protocol would include expectations for non-lethal deterrence measures, examples of deterrence measures, range rider roles and responsibilities, the depredation investigation process, criteria for lethal removal of wolves, and implementation of lethal removal of wolves. There are no special provisions for areas of chronic conflict in this alternative.
Alternative 2 (WDFW preferred): Develop a rule that uses area-specific conflict mitigation plans to establish criteria for the use of non-lethal and lethal measures to mitigate wolf-livestock conflict in areas of chronic conflict.
Under Alternative 2, WDFW would develop a rule based on the use of area-specific conflict mitigation plans through which WDFW would establish area-specific criteria for the use of nonlethal and lethal measures to mitigate wolf-livestock conflict in areas of chronic conflict. WDFW would author the conflict mitigation plans in consultation with willing, affected livestock producers. The rule would focus WDFW resources to areas of Washington where most wolf depredations on livestock and related wolf removals take place, specifically pack territories (or a portion thereof) where wolf depredations of livestock occurred and lethal removal of wolves was authorized in two of the last three years. The components of the rule based on this concept would include designation of chronic conflict areas, components and provisions of area-specific conflict mitigation plans, criteria for lethal removal of wolves in chronic conflict areas, and expectations for lethal removal authorizations.
Alternative 3: Develop a rule similar to the “Petition to amend the Washington Administrative Code to require use of nonlethal techniques to reduce livestock-wolf conflict” sent to the Fish and Wildlife Commission on May 11, 2020 (Petition), which would establish criteria for the use of non-lethal and lethal measures to mitigate wolf-livestock conflict both generally and with specific criteria for areas with chronic conflict.
Under Alternative 3, WDFW would develop a rule similar to the proposed rule attached to the Petition, which would codify in rule criteria for the use of non-lethal and lethal measures to mitigate wolf-livestock conflict. This alternative would be the most prescriptive of the four alternatives and would include the most specific expectations for use of non-lethal and lethal measures to mitigate wolf-livestock conflict. The rule based on the Petition would include expectations for non-lethal deterrence measures, examples of deterrence measures, specific expectations for range riders, criteria for lethal removal of wolves, expectations for lethal removal authorizations, and components and provisions of area-specific conflict mitigation plans.
Alternative 4: No Action. WDFW would not develop rule changes related to wolf-livestock conflict deterrence.
WDFW wolf-livestock conflict management and expectations for non-lethal and lethal measures would continue to operate under the non-binding guidance of the Wolf Plan and Protocol. The components of Alternative 4 would be similar to Alternative 1, but the use of non-lethal and lethal measures to mitigate wolf-livestock conflict would not be codified in rule.
Summary of impacts
Impacts to wolves include direct effects of lethal removal (i.e., loss of individual wolves) and indirect effects of lethal removal (e.g., changes to pack size, composition, and resilience, as well as associated effects on pup survival and recruitment). Data from wolf metapopulations in the western United States and Great Lakes states show that where wolves have been subject to lethal removal in response to livestock depredation at all stages of recovery, the wolf populations have continued to thrive. This data indicates that Washington’s wolf population is likely to continue to grow under all of the alternatives considered. Lethal control actions, as long as they are targeted to specific wolf packs implicated in livestock depredation and limited, are not likely to have significant effects on recovery or continued viability of Washington’s wolf population.
None of these alternatives would preclude the consideration of lethal removal of wolves entirely. Because many components of the proposed alternatives are already current practice for WDFW, levels of wolf mortality associated with agency lethal removal and associated impacts are likely to be similar to the current conditions under all alternatives. All alternatives will likely result in levels of lethal removal comparable to previous years in Washington and no alternative is likely to have negative effects on the recovery, population growth, and long-term sustainability of wolves in the state.
There is an inherent aspect of uncertainty about the environmental impacts of each alternative given the fact-specific nature of wolf-livestock conflicts. Because Alternatives 2 and 3 require the development of area-specific, proactive conflict mitigation plans in areas where wolf-livestock conflict has repeatedly occurred in Washington, these alternatives may result in fewer wolf removals than Alternative 1 and the No Action Alternative. Alternative 3 is the most prescriptive of the four alternatives and would include the most specific expectations for use of non-lethal and lethal measures to mitigate wolf-livestock conflict, but broadly prescribed measures (outside of area-specific conflict mitigation plans) that are not scenario-specific may not actually result in less wolf-livestock conflict and resultant wolf removals. Higher thresholds at which lethal removal of wolves can be considered in Alternative 3 may result in fewer wolf removals in the short-term, but may ultimately allow wolf-livestock conflict to escalate and not reduce wolf removals in the long-term. Alternative 2 may result in lethal removal of wolves more quickly than what is considered in other alternatives, but could result in fewer wolf removals long-term if depredations are addressed quickly.
Wolf-livestock conflict scenarios involve multiple sources of uncertainty about factual circumstances that make concrete analysis of impacts and outcomes challenging. Because of this uncertainty, all alternatives include a provision that lethal removal of wolves would be considered only if it is not expected to harm the wolf population’s ability to reach recovery objectives statewide or within individual wolf recovery regions. This measure is already in practice by WDFW using empirical and predictive data each time lethal removal of wolves is considered.
Documented wolf mortality in Washington is generally low and has not occurred at levels that have stymied wolf population growth. However, in a worst-case scenario, the potential exists that WDFW may discover a higher level of wolf mortality (e.g., from causes such as disease, poaching, or tribal harvest) than was known by WDFW at the time that a decision to lethally remove wolves was made. This could result in agency lethal removal of wolves unintentionally adding to a disproportionate impact on the wolf population due to unknown mortality. The uncertainty of this worst-case scenario exists under all alternatives.
Following the publication of the Draft SEIS on February 22, 2022, there was a 49-day public comment period, during which reviewers had the opportunity to comment on the accuracy and completeness of the environmental analysis, the methodology used in the analysis, and the need for additional information and/or mitigation measures, so that improvements to the SEIS could be made before it was finalized. WDFW received over 7,500 SEPA-associated comments in response to the Draft SEIS (Appendix D).
The SEPA EIS process informs Washington’s rule making process and corresponds with the development and decision-making of the proposed rule. WDFW’s preferred rule making alternative is expected to be proposed to the WDFW Commission for action on July 8, 2022. The Commission will decide on whether to adopt a final rule, which would become effective no less than 31 days after it is filed with the Code Reviser. If adopted, the rule or rules are tentatively scheduled to be implemented in January 2023.
Draft documents are provided for informational purposes only. Drafts may contain factual inaccuracies and may not reflect current WDFW policy.