OLYMPIA — A new law will require a statewide analysis by the Department of Fish and Wildlife of wolf recovery efforts to see if a change in conservation status is warranted.
State Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, sponsored House Bill 2097, which Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed and is effective July 28. The bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously and the Senate by a 43-5 vote.
Julia Smith, a wolf specialist with Fish and Wildlife, said the department conducts status reviews of endangered species every five years. The gray wolf review is delayed, she said, but would have been done regardless of the new law.
The most recent estimate from Fish and Wildlife showed 27 wolf packs in Washington, the majority in the northeastern part of the state.
Eastern Washington has reached wolf recovery goals, and the Northern Cascades zone is close. However, the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast zone has not reached those goals.
When it comes to conservation status, the state doesn't make distinctions between different regions, Smith said.
"If a species is considered state-endangered in Washington, it's endangered throughout the entire state," she said. "But wolves are already considered a little bit differently in the state by nature of their federal listing status because in the western two-thirds of the state, they're federally endangered. So that changes the management authority a little bit for those areas."
Wolves on the eastern side of Washington are not federally endangered, she said, but the state has no say over the federal listing.
Kretz's bill also provides funding for nonlethal wolf deterrents and for Fish and Wildlife to put resources toward responding to wolf conflicts.
"The ranchers have come around to making a real effort to do the nonlethal things," said Kretz, a cattle rancher who now mostly raises quarter horses. "None of them are a solution, but there are different tools. If you're calving in a small area and having trouble, you can put up fladry and hotwires. That makes some deterrent for a while. The wolves will figure it out eventually, but it helps."
Range riders also work to keep cows and wolves apart, he said.
Although livestock owners are reimbursed for animals confirmed to have been killed by wolves, Kretz said those with large ranches may lose more cows than they discover. There's also a process to determine if, in fact, a wolf killed the animal.
A greater loss than a dead cow, Kretz said, is a stressed cow.
"When they're coming back in, they might be 200 pounds underweight," he said. "A lot of them don't breed back, they're not pregnant. You've got a loss of a whole year, and if it continues long, you just have these crazy cows that you can't manage because they're so spooky. There's a lot of those costs that don't get figured into anything."
He said several ranchers have left the industry, which plays a key role in Okanogan County's economy.
"The whole system is set up to completely protect wolves, and it hasn't done a very good of taking into account that there's cattle people out there trying to make a living and protect their livestock," he said.
Smith said the Department of Fish and Wildlife has provisions and resources in place to support livestock owners affected by wolves.
"We strive to do everything we possibly we can to mitigate conflicts with livestock and support ranchers," she said. "At the end of the day, we want to do what's best for people, livestock and wolves, and for wolf recovery in general."