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Balancing Recovery and Management: The Case for Downlisting Gray Wolves in Washington
The gray wolf (Canis lupus) has been an emblematic creature in the recovery narrative of endangered species in Washington State. However, the recovery trajectory has spawned a nuanced debate on the classification status of this predator. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has proposed downlisting the gray wolf from 'endangered' to 'sensitive' status, reflecting a balanced approach towards the state's wildlife management and conservation goals.
Over the years, concerted conservation efforts have facilitated a remarkable rebound of the gray wolf population in Washington. The state's wolf population has been on an upward trajectory for 14 consecutive years, reaching a count of 216 wolves in 37 packs by the end of 2022. This population growth, averaging 23% per year since 2008, underscores a significant stride towards recovery, one of the pivotal bases for the downlisting proposal.
The resurgence of gray wolves has been predominantly observed in the eastern part of Washington. The wolves in this region have not only met but exceeded the recovery expectations outlined in the initial recovery plans. Conversely, the western region lags in wolf recovery, indicating a geographic disparity in population distribution. This regional discrepancy fosters a case for a nuanced approach in downlisting, specifically in the eastern region, aligning the state's classification with the federal recovery standards.
The WDFW conducts a Periodic Status Review (PSR) every five years for listed species, evaluating the available species information to recommend a suitable classification. The recent draft PSR recommends the downlisting of gray wolves to a sensitive status, reflecting the significant progress toward recovery since their original endangered listing in 1980.
Public and Stakeholder Engagement:
The downlisting proposal has been subjected to public scrutiny through a structured comment period, allowing stakeholders to voice their opinions. This transparent process underscores the state's commitment to involving the community in wildlife management decisions, thus fostering a balanced approach to conservation and management.
Legal and Administrative Dialogues:
The discourse on downlisting has transcended into the legal and administrative realms, with officials like Governor Jay Inslee expressing concerns over the proposal. Nonetheless, the WDFW has defended its process, emphasizing adherence to the established Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, and the best available science, thus underpinning the rationale for downlisting.
Downlisting the gray wolves to a sensitive status is not a carte blanche for lax management. It retains essential protections to ensure the wolves' long-term recovery while providing a leeway for more flexible state management. The WDFW remains committed to working closely with stakeholders to ensure the wolves' continued success, marking a pragmatic stride towards a harmonious coexistence between humans and wildlife in Washington.
The proposal to downlist gray wolves in Washington epitomizes a balanced approach towards wildlife management, aligning with the empirical evidence of population recovery, and the broader conservation goals. It underscores a pragmatic pathway to fostering a sustainable coexistence with this iconic predator while ensuring its continued protection and management.
Call to Action: Speak on the issues here
WHERE: The WDFW Commission Meeting at the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington Street SE, Olympia WA 98501 – Room 172 on either Friday, Oct 27 and/or Saturday, Oct 28th provides an avenue for public discourse on this issue.
How: You may sign up to speak either in person or virtually here. If you are interested in providing verbal public comment either online or in-person during a hybrid meeting, please register online. When registering enter "open public comment agenda 2" for Friday, or "open public comment agenda 11" for Saturday or... sign up for both.
Engaging in these platforms allows for a robust discussion, ensuring that the final decision on the wolf's status is well-informed and reflects a balanced perspective.
Additionally, a petition opposing the downlisting proposal has been circulated and can be found here.
Staff will brief the Commission on Saturday Oct 28th (agenda 14) and ask for a decision regarding the rulemaking petition to regulate the state’s management of endangered Gray Wolves.
The groups that oppose downlisting wolves and have signed and submitted a petition to WDFW can be found below. You decide.