SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A proposal by the Trump administration to lift protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states is getting a mixed reaction in Washington state.
State officials estimated a year ago that Washington contained a minimum of 122 wolves, grouped in at least 22 packs, with 14 successful breeding pairs. The wolf population was estimated to grow 30 percent a year, and had come into conflict with livestock.
Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, who represents central Washington, hailed Wednesday's announcement, which he said will return management of the species back to the states and tribes.
"The best available science shows that the gray wolf has successfully recovered from the danger of extinction and no longer requires federal protection," Newhouse said. "We can see in Washington state that the wolf population is growing quickly while being effectively managed by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife in the eastern third of the state."
The Center for Biological Diversity criticized the decision.
"Wolves are struggling to survive in Washington state and Trump's plan will only make things worse," said Amaroq Weiss, a wolf advocate with the group, which has been highly critical of the hunting of wolves that prey on livestock. "This administration continues to push the lie that wolves are fine and recovered. That paves the way in Washington for more wolves to be shot on behalf of the livestock industry."
The environmental group Conservation Northwest took a wait-and-see attitude.
"We empathize with concerns from colleagues in states such as California and Colorado where wolves have not yet recovered," said Chase Gunnell, Conservation Northwest spokesman. "However, given the quality of Washington's wolf plan and investments in collaborative wolf conservation and management work here, we do not expect federal delisting to have a significant impact on wolves in our state."
Wolves are a state endangered species throughout Washington, where they were all but wiped out early in the last century. Wolves started returning from neighboring Idaho and Canada after the turn of the new century. They also remain federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state, where killing wolves is prohibited.
According to Washington's wolf recovery plan, wolves can be delisted after 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years, or after officials document 18 breeding pairs in one year.
Most of the wolf packs are concentrated in the northeastern corner of the state, where they have come into conflict with ranchers.
To the dismay of some conservation groups, that has prompted the state to track and kill several wolf packs in recent years.
Wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned out of existence in most of the U.S. by the mid-20th century.
They received endangered species protections in 1975, when there were about 1,000 left, only in northern Minnesota.
Now more than 5,000 of the animals live in the contiguous U.S. Most are in the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rockies regions. Protections for the Northern Rockies population were lifted in 2011 and hundreds are now killed annually by hunters.
Since being reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the mid-1990s, the Northern Rockies population has expanded to parts of Oregon, Washington and California.