SPOKANE — Hunting was on the minds of those who tuned into a virtual open house about wolf management on Tuesday.
“The most common repeat (question) was ‘have you considered a hunting season’ or some variation,” wrote Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Staci Lehman in an email.
The 90-minute meeting was the first of three post-recovery wolf management meetings. The online meetings were scheduled after three in-person meetings were canceled due to threats of violence.
There were 227 live views of the webinar. The average number of viewers fluctuated between 55 and 60 with attendees asking about 40 questions.
WDFW is soliciting public input as the agency starts planning for when Washington’s wolves are no longer listed as endangered on either the state or federal level.
“Wolves are on an upward trajectory in Washington,” said Julia Smith, the statewide wolf coordinator.
Although the process is starting now, Smith said she doesn’t anticipate it being finished for two to three years.
But public comment is necessary. WDFW will use the comments it receives now through Nov. 1 to design various management alternatives. Those alternatives will be presented to the public in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, targeted for summer 2020, said Donny Martorello, WDFW’s wolf policy lead. The draft EIS will be open to public comment. Following that second round of public comment, WDFW will revise the draft as needed and then present a final plan to the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
“It’s going to be a long process. Not excessively long. But long enough that we hear from as many folks as possible,” Martorello said. “We want to do this right the first time, so we don’t have to do it a second time.”
Once wolves are delisted at the state and federal level, they will be managed more like other species in Washington and could be hunted if biologists determined the population is stable enough.
One participant asked what the minimum number of wolves would be needed before hunting started. Smith and Martorello didn’t have a definitive answer.
“We would want a very healthy number of wolves in the state,” Smith said. “We wouldn’t want to hover around those minimum thresholds.”
Other questions included whether gray wolves are native to Washington (they are), if they are always gray (they are not) and whether WDFW places more importance on wolves than ungulates like deer and elk.
In response to the last question, Smith said that while wolves are listed, they are treated differently. But in the long term they will “be treated the same.”