SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants to change the way the state deals with problem wolves in Ferry County in an effort to reduce the number of gray wolves that are being killed.
The Democrat sent a letter to the Department of Fish and Wildlife saying that the statewide wolf management plan does not appear to be working in the Kettle River Range area of Ferry County.
The state in recent years has killed some two dozen wolves in that area that were preying on livestock. That has outraged wolf advocates who contend the state is repeatedly destroying wolf packs living in prime habitat.
“We must find new methods to better support co-existence between Washington’s livestock industry and gray wolves in our state,” Inslee wrote to the agency on Monday. “The status quo of annual lethal removal is simply unacceptable.”
Inslee asked the agency to devise a new management approach in the Kettle River Range and report back to him by Dec. 1.
Wolves were all but wiped out in Washington by the 1930s, mostly at the behest of ranching interests.
The animals started moving back into Washington in 2008 from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia. Gray wolves have since come into regular conflict with ranchers, especially in northeastern Washington.
That has prompted state officials to wipe out numerous wolf packs in recent years.
But the return of wolves enjoys broad support among environmental groups and many residents, especially in the Seattle area, who oppose the killing of the animals.
“I understand that conflicts between wolves and livestock do occur, especially as the state’s wolf population continues to grow,” Inslee wrote.
But he noted that regular killing of wolves has “resulted in public concern and outrage.”
State Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, whose district is the heart of wolf country, said ranchers in the area have worked hard to develop non-lethal means of keeping wolves away from cattle.
“Most of the new ideas are coming from them,” Kretz said of ranchers. “But when it doesn’t work you have to do something.”
The vast majority of wolves live in remote northeastern Washington, with only a few in the rest of the state, Kretz said. “They are behind every bush up here,” he said.
“We need less livestock killed,” Kretz added.
The Center for a Humane Economy, a conservation group, applauded Inslee.
“Killing off wolves and packs one by one has been the wrong strategy for the state in managing occasional wolf-human conflicts,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the group, on Tuesday.
Pacelle noted that the state killed all the members of the Old Profanity Territory wolf pack in Ferry County in August even as the environmental group was winning a court injunction to delay the extermination.
In recent years the state has killed 25 wolves in Ferry County on behalf of a single ranch, Pacelle said.
“This is a huge step forward for the protection of Washington’s wolves,” said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Most Washington residents support wolves and wolf recovery.”
The state wolf population was estimated in 2018 at about 126 animals.
Gray wolves are no longer listed as an endangered species under federal protection in eastern Washington. They are still federally protected across the rest of the state, although the federal government is considering lifting those protections.