Washington’s state wolf plan gets official approval

Fifteen breeding pairs with a required minimum in three regions of the state will be required-

Olympia, WA. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has finally given official approval to a state wolf plan. Before state (this is not a federal) delisting is met there are supposed to be 15 breeding pairs of wolves, not packs of wolves, in the state. The wolves must also meet a minimum state regional distribution — at least 4 breeding pairs in Eastern Washington, 4 in the northern Cascade Mountains, four in the southern Cascades/Northwest coastal area and three others anywhere in the state.

The new state law takes effect immediately to protect wolves in Eastern Washington where the federal wolf delisting left the new, first forming wolf packs without protection. The rest of the state is still protected by federal law, that is the western 2/3. Right now there are already 5 wolf packs in Washington, although there is probably only just one that counts as a breeding pair. The wolves have migrated into Washington from Idaho, Oregon and British Columbia on their own. There was no state or federal reintroduction. Two or 3 of the packs are near state or the international boundaries, however, and so their permanent presence is Washington is far from assured.

Earlier this year 65,000 public comments were received on the proposed plan. Opponents used the typical arguments against wolves, although I noticed less emphasis on the alleged “unnatural” origin of the wolves, which have been characterized in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming as giant Canadian “killing machines” never native to the area. The low poentancy of this argument is perhaps because the wolves came into the state by themselves. Some critics, however, were taking a new tack calling them Yukon or Arctic wolves. Possibly this was because of the proximity of Canada just a few miles away makes it hard to characterize that country as some remote foreign land.

The plan meet approval after a few changes were made to satisfy some traditionally anti-wolf groups like the Farm Bureau.

Political scientists believe that wolf recovery in Washington state might be less controversial because it is a competitive two party state with a more diverse economy than the 3 Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. In the historical sweep of American politics traditional economy, one-party states (whether Republican or Democrat) have been slow to innovate on economic or environmental policies.

Here is the Associated Press story from the Seattle PI. WA commission approves wolf management plan, and here a conservation group story: Wildlife Commission Adopts Wolf Recovery Plan. Conservation Northwest applauds collaborative approach to wolf conservation. By Conservation Northwest.



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  1. WM Avatar

    This plan will, indeed, be interesting on the implementation side. A rosy, and I believe somewhat naive picture of co-existence between wolves and a fairly dense human population and intensely managed ungulate populations. The authors, all based in Olympia under a very liberal political administration, and a hand picked citizen advisory group with a predictable outcome from the start. This whole effort got alot of PR spin right up to the adoption stage.

    This is every bit the flip side of the NRM, and I expect this state plan is at some risk of suffering from inadequate funding, unless they have the legislative votes lined up to cover the costs of what will likely be a fairly expensive monitoring program, and at first a nominal livestock compensation fund, and then the litigation which will come about the time the delisting goals are achieved and DFW will have to prove up the plan goals (confirming 15 breeding pairs for 3 years). Good luck finding the funding, while the legis and the governor try to close a $2B budget gap that has colleges laying off staff, and everybody looking for funding sources for lots of essential state services.

    There apparently were somewhat material last minute amendments to the plan offered by a couple Commission members. To my knowledge there are no publicly available writings which give the details of these plan changes. If someone knows of these please point out where they may be found, as they do not yet appear on the WDFW website.

    1. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg

      Here’s a link to more information on the changes:


      The quick and dirty:

      Lethal take of wolves in the act of biting, wounding, or killng livestock was expanded to include not only acts of this nature occuring on private lands, but also on grazing allotments.

      In any recovery area, there have to be at least 4 breeding pairs before lethal control to maintain or improve ungulate numbers can be considered, if wolves are found to be the primary limiting factor.

      The last one I’m seeing is how to determine an “at-risk” ungulate population. Instead of having to fall 25% or more below population objectives for three years, it will now be two years @ 25% below population objectives or 25% or more below the 10 year average harvest rate for two years.

      1. Daniel Berg Avatar
        Daniel Berg

        There are also a few other changes regarding numbers, distrobution, and recovery that I missed in my initial reading.

        1. Daniel Berg Avatar
          Daniel Berg


  2. bret Avatar

    WM one of the changes was delisting at 18 BP even if the 3 year threshold had not been met, there are others but like you having difficulty finding details.

    the statement was made that it is a “living document” and changes can occur as we move forward.

    the WDFW is behind, under staffed, lacking funds and it will only get worse.

    1. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg

      WDFW will absolutely have to receive more funding to implement this plan, and I have no idea where it will come from in the short-term.

      I know what the schedules look like for some of the bios in this state and I don’t know how they keep up with it all.

  3. JB Avatar

    “Political scientists believe that wolf recovery in Washington state might be less controversial because it is a competitive two party state with a more diverse economy than the 3 Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.”

    Ralph: While I can’t disagree with this logic, there are other reasons to think that recovery in Washington will be controversial. Specifically, the West/East political divide and location of wolves creates yet another opportunity for NIMBY politics to play out.

    1. WM Avatar

      I tend to agree with JB. Here’s why:

      The plan itself will be incredibly hard to administer, even assuming they can fund its component activities, which is a fact lost on most, including the folks who drafted it, and the Commission who just adopted it.

      The largest elk herds are East of the Cascades (Yakima/Clockum) and around St. Helens to the south (the wolves haven’t gotten to many elk yet, it is my understanding even around CleElum); Willapa Hills- on the west side just north of the Columbia River on the coast, but in politically conservative timber country; Olympic Peninsula – interesting blend of conservatives and folks who love wildlife, not just hunters. Then there are the Indian tribes. Colvilles (east) who don’t want wolves period. Yakama tribe (east and largest tribe with most elk and cattle operations at the base of Mt. Adams have been pretty quiet, and I have long said they will just likely shoot wolves if they start having livestock problems or get too many elk, and that may be something they can just do on the reservation without consulting the state). Quinault tribe (Olympic Peninsula and very proud of their elk recovery for subsistence hunting), are not too keen on wolves. Quillayutes have wolves in their tribal history and revere them, but they are a practical group too, and I would not doubt if wolves interfere with subsistence hunting this might change.

      The problem: the wolves will be growing where the easiest prey is present (I bet they will prefer elk to deer once they find them), and that is the rural areas where most of the anti’s are likely to be (towns like Wenatchee/Yakima/Ellensburg/CleElum/Colville on the east side; Forks/Aberdeen/Port Angeles/Morton/Shelton on the west side).

      Then these overzealous – I want wolves everywhere they can possibly be- who drew up the plan, including the computer modelers put a planning horizon of 50 years for wolves, without accounting for the inevitable human growth during the same time period (including their modeling of habitat and road density and conflicts). Wait until the first housing development, timber sale, or road is delayed or stopped because it is in a wolf pack territory (WA has a growth management act that requires things like this to be addressed).

      The conservative R’s will be coming out of the woodwork. And I am willing to bet better than even money, the next governor will be current Attorney General Rob McKenna who has general voter appeal, but in his heart is an R, and likely up against a too liberal for current economic times D.

      I was talking a few months back to some folks on the Olympic Peninsula (where some Seattleites want wolves in Olympic NP). The conversation went very matter of factly to – if they show up outside the Park we’ll just shoot them. I have no doubt they will if wolves are translocated there, which is the only way they will show up.

      1. bret Avatar

        I will also add the Blue Mountain area of SE Washington, politically conservative, where wolves have been documented (no BP yet) when wolves fallow their prey base into the river valleys there may be conflicts similar to the Imnaha pack in Oregon.

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan

          I haven’t been in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness area there, but from what it looks like it is very complicated country that wolves could hang out in.

      2. Daniel Berg Avatar
        Daniel Berg


        The lack of available funding for this plan is a problem, but I think you’re being too pessimistic about other parts of it.

        How many wolves tribal members or rural residents shoot is open to speculation, but in my opinion, there’s always a lot more talk about shooting wolves than actual shooting of them. I have heard of no evidence that poaching has put any kind of material dent in the wolf population anywhere in the NRM up to this point. A lot of people might not like wolves, but I’m willing to bet that there’s only a very few who are willing to risk stepping into the White’s shoes.

        The 50 year modeling was a waste of time. That being said, there’s no gaurantee that population growth is going to trend the way you or I envision it. I’ve read multiple articles lately about a potential cultural shift away from homeownership because of the intensity of the housing crash. Not only that, but my generation isn’t necessarily going to be able to afford the second home ranchettes that were popping up everywhere in the mid-2000’s. From what I’ve read, baby-boomers fed much of that demand over the last several decades. The net worth of individuals in their early 30’s is declining compared to earlier generations and that could be a signal that doesn’t bode well for second homes.

        You also can’t say with any certainty that additional blocks of land won’t be blocked from further development. There are a lot of privately owned timberlands in WA that may eventually be bought or closed off to development by payoffs from conservation groups. Just look at the Snoqualmie Tree Farm: Something like 90,000 acres protected, essentially creating a barrier to further eastward development in parts of King County.

        Parts of Washington are isolated and haven’t experienced the high population growth seen in Seattle, Tacoma, Tri-Cities, Spokane, etc.

        Even if McKenna is elected, he won’t be able to bow to the anti-wolf community the same way NRM politicians have. He might shower Butch Otter with compliments at a fundraiser in Bellevue, but won’t last long if he picks up many of Butch’s habits.

        1. WM Avatar


          Your points are well taken. It is likely to be a mix of things over time. I do believe, however, that when a bounce in the economy occurs, maybe five to ten years down the line (well within the planning horizon for a rapid expansion of wolf population) these land use issues will emerge, yet again. And don’t forget many timber companies have changed their business models and are now REIT’s, which give them broader latitude with the land/timber resources they hold. The metro growth areas you mention are not the ones to worry about. They already have pretty tight comprehensive plans. It is the little communities with the big (unrealistic?) dreams that will be problematic.

          McKenna won’t pander, or be very vocal on controversial issues. It won’t buy votes, and will certainly lose some. He is a smart and politically astute guy, showing himself in a much more complex voter environment, which differentiates him from the likes of some of the NRM elected officials, like Butch.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Fortunately, this plan requires recovery in a distributed fashion, so wolf recovery can concentrate on other parts of the state besides Eastern Washington where many of the tired old attitudes remain. I think this is hopeful.

      1. JB Avatar

        Agreed. It will be very interesting to watch this unfold.

  4. Alan Gregory Avatar

    Why not just 14 pairs? Or just 12 (or so)? Getting by with a minimum, not ecology, seems to be the gist of this.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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