Proposed legislation would give Washington counties more control over tracking, moving and killing gray wolves.
House Bill 1698, which was introduced by Republican state Rep. Joel Kretz on Wednesday, would allow the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in conjunction with county governments, to manage gray wolves as if they had been removed from state endangered or protected status within counties with documented three breeding pairs, or if the state has 15 breeding pairs for at least three years.
Per the state’s present recovery plan, wolves only can be delisted at the state level after 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years, or after officials document 18 breeding pairs in one year. Under either scenario, however, the pairs must be distributed evenly throughout the state’s three wolf management areas.
That geographic requirement has slowed recovery, with the majority of Washington’s wolves concentrated in northeast Washington. The agency once predicted wolves would disperse throughout all three recovery zones by 2021. There were a minimum of 206 wolves and 33 packs in Washington state in 2021, according to the most recent survey.
“They haven’t dispersed as quickly as everyone thought they would,” Kretz said.
Wolves remain a federal endangered species in the western two-thirds of Washington. Kretz’s bill would have no impact on management in that zone. Kretz has introduced wolf legislation, some serious, some not, in the past. In 2019, he sponsored a bill that called for the relocation of wolves to Bainbridge Island.
Unlike previous efforts, Kretz’s bill has bipartisan support with Democrat state Rep. Larry Springer co-sponsoring.
A WDFW spokesperson said staff were reviewing the bill and couldn’t comment.
Samantha Bruegger called the legislation a “wolf-hunting bill.”
“It removes state protection for wolves in almost every county where wolves live now,” said the executive director of Washington Wildlife First, a nonprofit dedicated to changing how the state manages wildlife. “It gives power to the same county officials who have often proclaimed their desire to decimate wolf populations.”
Bruegger believes current recovery guidelines are adequate and argued that limiting the death of wolves helps maintain pack cohesion, which, in turn, leads to pack growth and dispersal.
“We need healthy wolf packs in northeast to recover wolf populations throughout the state,” she said.
On the other side of the issue are some in northeast Washington who are frustrated by the lack of regional wolf management, said Jay Shepherd, a former WDFW biologist and the founder of the nonprofit Northeast Washington Wolf-Cattle Collaborative. He thinks Kretz’s bill would address that frustration, but he doesn’t think the bill will go anywhere.
“I don’t think the governor is going to sign it. That would be my guess,” he said. “In fact, take that one to Vegas.”
The bill will be heard Wednesday in front of the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources at 8 a.m. To tune in, visit tvw.org.