Washington’s gray wolf conservation and management plan guides the recovery of wolves as they naturally reestablish a sustainable population across the state. The plan outlines outreach tools and population goals, and also authorizes management tools to address conflicts with livestock and other wildlife.
The plan was developed with the assistance of a 17-member citizen advisory wolf working group over nearly five years (2007-2011). The process included extensive public review (23 public meetings and nearly 65,000 comments submitted), and a blind scientific peer review. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously adopted the plan in December 2011.
Key elements include:
- Recovery goals – The plan establishes a delisting objective of 15 breeding pairs of wolves present in the state for at least three years, with at least four in eastern Washington, four in the northern Cascades, four in the southern Cascades / northwest coastal area, and three others anywhere in the state. The plan also provides for WDFW to consider initiating the delisting process if 18 breeding pairs are documented during a single year and the distribution objectives are met.
- Livestock protection – The plan provides a variety of nonlethal and lethal management measures – from technical assistance for landowners to lethal removal – to control wolves that prey on livestock. The plan also establishes conditions for compensating ranchers who lose livestock to wolf predation.
All aspects of the plan are in effect east of Highways 97, 17, and 395, where wolves were removed from federal protection in May 2011. In the rest of Washington, portions of the plan that are consistent with federal law are in effect. Federal law supersedes the state plan until wolves are delisted under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The plan covers management of wolves while they are a state listed species. A new management plan will be developed after the species is delisted.
No wolves have ever been reintroduced into Washington, and under the plan, WDFW will not import wolves from other states or Canadian provinces.
Wolf plan development process
In early 2007, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) initiated development of a wolf conservation and management plan for Washington. This was in response to several factors:
- The state endangered status of the species, which requires the development of a state recovery plan (WAC 220-610-110)
- The expectation that the wolf population in Washington would be increasing through natural dispersal of wolves from adjacent populations in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia
- The eventual return of wolf management to the state after federal delisting.
The purpose of the plan is to provide recovery objectives for downlisting and delisting the species under state law and identify strategies to address conflicts and achieve recovery.
An advisory Wolf Working Group comprised of 17 citizens was appointed to give recommendations on the development of the plan. WDFW conducted seven public scoping meetings early in 2007 to request public comment on the scope of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the plan.
The Wolf Working Group provided extensive input on early versions of chapters in the plan throughout 2007 and 2008. The first draft of the plan (August 2008) underwent scientific peer review from wolf experts, resource managers, wildlife biologists, and other specialists. Using input from that review, a second draft was produced in August 2009. This draft received additional input from the Wolf Working Group in September 2009.
In October 2009, WDFW published a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) entitled Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington. It contained four alternatives, including a “no action” alternative and a preferred alternative. These were based on recommendations from the Wolf Working Group, public scoping comments, peer review comments, and WDFW reviews. The DEIS underwent a three month public review period from Oct. 5, 2009 through Jan. 8, 2010. Twelve public meetings were also held during the public comment period. In addition, WDFW contracted with the University of Washington to conduct a blind peer review of the draft plan from late 2009 through Feb. 2010.
Comments from nearly 65,000 public respondents, blind peer review, and further WDFW review were analyzed and incorporated into a revision of the preferred alternative. These revisions were discussed with the Wolf Working Group in June 2011, which resulted in further edits to the plan. A final EIS and recommended plan was presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on Aug. 4, 2011, and was discussed at workshops on Aug. 29, Oct. 6, and Nov. 3, 2011. The plan was adopted with some modifications at the Commission meeting on Dec. 3, 2011.