Wolf population targets laid out in a draft management plan by Washington Department of Fish and Game officials are too low to sustain a viable population, according to some independent scientists who reviewed the proposal.
Wolves were classified as an endangered species across the state of Washington by the federal government in 1973 and by the state government in 1980. In 2009 the predators were delisted under federal law for the eastern third of Washington, though they remain listed as endangered in the western two-thirds of the state. Well aware that wolves likely will begin to spread across their state, Washington officials are drawing up a management plan that will allow wolves to be delisted as an endangered species statewide...but prevent them from growing too robustly in number.
The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, under a draft environmental impact statement examining the management plan, is proposing a goal of 15 breeding pairs to justify removal of the species from protection under that state's Endangered Species Act. But officials with the National Parks Conservation Association have questioned those population targets, and their concerns are now being supported by an independent review.
“The majority of the scientific reviewers agree with NPCA that a higher number of breeding pairs is needed to produce a sustainable wolf population in Washington,” said David G. Graves, the NPCA's Northwest field representative.
According to NPCA officials, some scientists who conducted an independent peer review of the state's DEIS found that its population recommendations are not biologically defensible and will not ensure the ‘reestablishment of a self-sustaining population of gray wolves in Washington.’
As one reviewer puts it, the current population goal of 15 breeding pairs “does not flow from the result of scientific evaluation.” A second reviewer states, “…we might anticipate that the state should support somewhere between 320 and 668 wolves.” Finally, a third reviewer says, “Wolf populations currently living in Wisconsin and Michigan are at levels of 626+ and 580+ wolves (winter 2009) respectively, in states that have human population densities similar to Washington…”
The reviewers also said that an adjustment of the population goals and other minor changes (such as addressing how interaction with other wolf populations would be maintained or restored) can result in a scientifically defensible plan, the parks advocacy group said.
“The blind scientific peer review is vitally important and should be closely considered in crafting the final version of the wolf plan for the state of Washington,” said Mr. Graves.
The review panel's comments are attached below.
Research indicates that healthy wolf populations can benefit local communities. The University of Montana recently estimated that Yellowstone National Park wolves generate $35 million in economic benefits every year for local communities. This money comes from tourist spending directly related to wolves, including wolf tours and related services, such as lodging and meals.
Scientists also believe the return of the gray wolf to the Olympic peninsula would lead to cleaner water and healthier ungulate populations, NPCA said. In Olympic National Park, stream and river habitat has been damaged from elk overgrazing. This damage is limited in other parks, such as Yellowstone, where wolves are present to control and manage the elk population, the group said.
In January, members of the Washington State Legislature and local Washington community leaders sent a letter to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) urging it to restore a healthy and vibrant wolf population to Washington State. The letter included five members of the state Senate, 15 members of the state House of Representatives and 13 community leaders, including Paula L. Houston, Executive Director of the Mathews East Madison YMCA, Bob Kelly, Policy Director for the Nooksack Indian Tribe, and Peter Jackson of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.