AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. (AP) – The Colville Indian Tribes are worried that the state's proposed wolf management plan may hurt subsistence hunting by its members.
The tribes told members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on Thursday that a plan to restore at least five breeding pairs of wolves in Eastern Washington has the potential to reduce herds of elk, deer and moose on its reservation.
Tribal members harvest up to 1,000 deer, 400 elk and 50 moose each year, and worry a large increase in the number of wolves will increase competition for the animals.
“We have 60 percent unemployment on our reservation,” Joe Peone of the Colville Tribes Fish and Wildlife Department told the commission. “To be able to rely on subsistence hunting is critical.”
The comments came as the commission held the final public meeting on its proposed plan in the Spokane suburb of Airway Heights. The commission is expected to take final action on the wolf plan at its December meeting.
Three of the state's five known breeding packs are located in the northeast, where the tribe's reservation is located, Peone said.
The tribe wants to ensure the state wolf management plan provides a balance between the needs of wolves and hunters, Peone said.
The state plan, released this summer after several years of work, calls for the return of 15 successful breeding pairs in the state for three consecutive years before removing endangered species protections from the animals.
Farmers and ranchers have criticized the plan in previous meetings as putting their livestock and livelihoods at risk. Conservations want more breeding pairs established before hunting is allowed.
Gray wolves were eliminated as a breeding species in Washington by the 1930s. They have never been reintroduced to Washington but numerous sightings over the years suggested that the animals had crossed into Washington from neighboring states and British Columbia.
Gray wolves are listed as an endangered species statewide under Washington law, and in the western two-thirds of the state under federal law. There currently are five confirmed resident wolf packs.
Under the agency's original plan for delisting, five breeding pairs would be required in Eastern Washington, four in the North Cascades and six in the South Cascades or Northwest Coast. But the agency is also considering reducing that to four pairs in each region, plus three more anywhere in the state.
Two of the state's confirmed wolf packs reside in north-central Washington's Methow Valley and the Teanaway Valley of Kittitas County, with the other three in the northeast corner.
Efforts to save wolves have been controversial throughout western states in recent years. Earlier this year, Congress stripped federal endangered species protections from wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon. Wolves are still under federal endangered species protections in the western two-thirds of those two states.
The goal of the management plan is to eventually make wolves a game animal, said Nate Pamplin of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Phil Anderson, director of the department, acknowledged that the effort to create a wolf management plan has been filled with conflict.
“Thousands of hours have been devoted to this in the last four years,” he said. “This is one of the biggest challenges we've faced as an agency.”