By K.C. Mehaffey
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Reports of wolf tracks, wolf kills and howling on the reservation — all the way from Omak to Inchelium — have become more and more frequent since 2007, said Randy Friedlander, manager of the wildlife program for Colville Tribes Fish and Wildlife.
Now that it’s certain, the tribal agency wants to study the wolves, and find out what tribal members want to do about them.
Last winter, the tribe confirmed with a DNA test of scat that they are not hybrids or dogs. Remote camera images since then show there’s more than one.
“They’re here. So — What are we going to do with them now? — is the next question,” Friedlander said.
This winter, they’ve invited tribal members to fill out a questionnaire asking how they feel about gray wolves returning to the reservation, whether they’re culturally or spiritually significant, and if the wolves should be hunted or trapped if there are too many.
Based on the more than 90 questionnaires returned so far, wolves appear to be just as controversial among tribal members as they are in other parts of Washington, Friedlander said.
Officials now think there are at least three wolves, and as many as nine now living on the reservation, said Joe Peone, the tribes’ director of Fish and Wildlife. There’s no evidence yet that there’s an active pack, defined by the state as a breeding male and female with pups, he said. Mostly, reports have been of lone tracks.
Except for a small strip of land between the Okanogan River and Highway 97, wolves are not considered endangered by the federal government on the reservation.
That means the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation — a sovereign nation — will develop its own plan for managing them, Peone said.
“We’re going to be managing them. And when I say manage, I mean we’re going to be removing some,” he said. But just how many wolves tribal members want on the reservation, and how they’ll want them removed when the wolf population exceeds that number, is yet to be determined.
Peone said they will be asking for help from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, mostly with an effort this spring to trap and radio collar wolves to learn more about their ranges and habits.
They’re also planning to set out hair snares to add to information being gathered with remote cameras, which have taken pictures of three wolves — two of which could be the same wolf.
Friedlander noted that Colvilles haven’t lived with wolves on their reservation for between 80 and 90 years, so even elders aren’t likely to remember how wolves were dealt with in the past.
Peone said non-tribal members who live on the reservation and will also be affected by the wolf’s return are welcome to comment at the tribes’ district meetings, scheduled in January and February.
And, in addition to developing a plan for wolves living on the reservation, Peone said, the tribe hopes to work with state officials to develop understandings about wolves living on what’s known as the North Half — an area north of the existing reservation where tribal members have longstanding hunting rights. “We plan to sit down with the state and talk about what we can do relative to the North Half,” he said.