The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is about to live up to the name longtime critics have attached to it: Department of NO Fish and Watchable Wildlife, by proposing steep cuts in hatchery production and fisheries management.
According to a thought-provoking piece posted on-line today by Northwest Sportsman, the agency hopes to hack $6.8 million from its budget. Anglers will suffer. Probably hunters will suffer.
But not the wolf program or its advocates in the agency; WDFW Director Phil Anderson plans to ask for $75,000..
“…for wolf population monitoring over the next two years. That would go towards hiring a field staffer to search for more packs in the Blues, Cascades and Northeast as well as pay for travel, supplies and other items. Funding would come from sales of endangered wildlife license plates.”—Northwest Sportsman
Note to Anderson: This is not going to play well among the hardcore hunters and anglers whose license and tag fees, and special federal excise tax revenues the agency receives from the Pittman-Robertson, Wallop-Breaux and Dingell-Johnson funds, ideally are supposed to be used for sportfish and game programs, though the Pittman-Robertson fun is called the Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration program. These are programs administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that apportion money back to the states for wildlife and sportfish restoration, but it is difficult to imagine that the people who created the P-R program envisioned restoring wolf populations at the expense of big and small game populations.
Washington’s share of P-R funds, derived from excise taxes on firearms, ammunition and hunting-related equipment this year came to more than $7.5 million. Our share from the Sportfish Restoration program, derived from taxes on fishing tackle and related items, comes to more than $7.7 million.
Northwest Sportsman’s revelations come just as the agency is planning a public meeting to “discuss the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.” That meeting is scheduled Oct. 6, prior to the Fish & Wildlife Commission’s weekend meeting to discuss north coast steelhead and population goals for deer, elk and “other ungulates.”
The special meeting, the second of three scheduled on the recommended Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and final Environmental Impact Statement, will begin Oct. 6 at 9 a.m. in Room 172 on the first floor of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E. The commission will meet at the same location Oct. 7-8, beginning at 8:30 a.m. both days.—WDFW press release
That could be a lively session, considering the feedback that is already coming in from hunters and some groups representing hunters.
Where ungulate populations are in decline, wolves may be only one of multiple factors contributing to that decline. Whether wolves are the exclusive cause of elk and other ungulate species decline, or whether they are one of several factors contributing to declining herd populations is irrelevant. If it is within the Department’s power to control one or more factors that are harming the state’s wildlife populations, then that control should be exercised. And if ungulate populations are suffering from habitat decline, severe winter conditions, and increasing populations of other predators, it would be poor management practice to introduce another cause of that decline, namely wolves, and then fail to aggressively prevent that factor from further harming ungulate populations. Wolves choose to prey on the young of ungulate populations. These young ungulates that are the frequent prey of wolves are not making it to adulthood to sustain population numbers. Elk, in responding to wolf presence, are spending less time feeding, and moving to safer habitats of poorer nutritional qulality, and that the resultant lower calf production will have a detrimental impact on ungulate numbers.—Mark Pidgeon, president, Hunters Heritage Council
Then there is Dale Denney, the veteran Colville-based hunting guide and advocate, whose lengthy letter to the Fish & Wildlife Commission is worth reading every word. Denney is no crank. He has spent his life in the outdoors, and has literally depended upon the resource for his livelihood. Denney doesn’t mince words. He gets right down to it:
I agree completely with the Washington For Wildlife (WFW) position of scrapping the proposed wolf plan and can only hope you will send the current plan to the recycle bin. Please direct WDFW managers to draft a plan that proposes sustainable numbers of wolves based on experiences in other neighboring states. If ungulate populations drop, predator populations will also drop, this has been proven in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Yellowstone. Any plan short of maintaining current ungulate numbers is tainted science, is unacceptable, is sustainable, and will set Washington up for wildlife management failure.
Why is Washington proposing more wolves than Wyoming when it has 12 times the human population and does not have near the prey base to sustain as many wolves as Wyoming? Does Washington think fewer prey animals in Washington can support more wolves than Wyoming? Wyoming’s plan is for 10 BP’s (breeding pairs) and 100 wolves and Wyoming has a much larger prey base. I would like to hear a responsible, logical, and intelligent reply from the WDFW managers regarding this issue. It would seem that no more than 8 BP’s should be considered for Washington.
After experiencing a drop in ungulate populations in numerous elk areas, Idaho is now managing for 15 BP’s of wolves. Do WDFW managers somehow think Washington’s smaller elk herds and smaller remote areas can support as many wolves as Idaho? Idaho has a much larger prey base, the largest wilderness area in the US, and a 1/6 of the human population as Washington. Idaho’s plan calls for 15 BP’s, please see page 18: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/docs/wolves/plan02.pdf
Oregon Wolf Plan details how small wolf populations are viable:
Because secure habitat is limited in Oregon, biologists predict that fewer wolves will occupy Oregon than are found in similar but much more abundant habitat in Idaho. The federal recovery goal for the Idaho wolf population was 10 breeding pairs in what has been described as the best remaining wolf habitat in the lower 48 states. Oregon, on the other hand, was not selected as a recovery state primarily due to lack of large blocks of contiguous public land habitat.
Research published in 2003 suggested that the smallest viable wolf populations might be two to three adjacent packs with four wolves each, located 40-60 kilometers apart (Fuller et al. 2003). Each pack might cover 117 square kilometers if the ungulate density averaged eight deer per square kilometer. The authors also wrote that such small populations could persist anywhere if the prey density was at average population levels and productivity, and where wolf production exceeded mortality.
Several notable examples of small wolf populations can be found in the scientific literature. The Isle Royale wolf population began from a single pair of wolves in about 1949. The population has fluctuated between 12-90 individuals. This population has persisted for more than 50 years despite being isolated on an island and apparently losing 50 percent of their original genetic diversity. Remnant wolf populations in Europe (i.e., Italy, Spain and Portugal) numbering fewer than 100-200 wolves persisted for decades and have since expanded their numbers and range, and avoided extinction (USFWS 1994). Please see page 29: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/Wolves/docs/2010_wcmp_wolf_conservation.pdf
I thank you for all the time you have invested in this wolf plan, please stand firm and request a responsible and sustainable wolf plan, experiences in other states clearly indicate the WDFW is misguided in their wolf proposal for 15 BP’s.
Hunters are justifiably concerned about wolf predation on elk and deer herds, which seem to have all kinds of other problems, else why would hunting seasons be so tight and regulations so cumbersome? Adding wolves to the mix could be a bad political move for an agency that some in the hook-and-bullet fraternity already believe needs a shakeup, if not a thorough house cleaning.
And there is one more question raised by something Northwest Sportsman mentions:
WDFW proposes creating new wolf and cougar license plates that, it says, would raise $150,000 a year starting in 2013.
Mountain lions are not endangered in Washington State, and the WDFW knows it. Would the revenue from these cougar license plates go into actual game management, or be siphoned off to support the department’s wolf program? Here’s a thought for WDFW management in Olympia to chew on: If even one dollar of revenue derived from the sale of cougar license plates, or deer and elk tags, duck stamps or general hunting licenses is used to further Washington’s wolf program, the commission better start planning to open a season on them.
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