Wolves are on the move in Washington state, but that doesn’t mean they are going away. Three packs already have taken up residence on the east slopes of the Cascades — in the Methow Valley, the Teanaway area of upper Kittitas County and just south of Wenatchee. About a dozen packs reside in Washington, mostly in the mountainous northeastern part of the state.
The wolves can move quickly across long distances. A year ago, one collared female from the Teanaway Pack trekked out of Kittitas County, crossed the Methow Valley and continued into Canada. She was shot and killed in the pigsty of a farm near Kootenay, British Columbia, about 100 miles north of Sandpoint, Idaho.
The wolf’s far-flung destination and eventual demise point to issues that soon may confront humans and their domesticated animals in areas of Yakima County where people co-exist with the wilds. Wildlife officials say eventually wolves will disperse from packs and seek new turf to the south, and even a barrier like Interstate 90 will do little to slow their movement.
A key development in this issue came earlier this month, when the Obama administration proposed lifting federal protections on gray wolves across the Lower 48, a move that would affect management of the animals in Yakima County. The wolves are delisted in the eastern third of the state but not in south-central Washington; the federal move eventually would change that.
The change won’t come overnight. The proposal will be subject to hearings and potentially emotional testimony, and it also could be challenged in court by environmental groups. So delisting won’t happen for a year at the earliest, and most likely longer. That leaves plenty of time for governmental authorities to educate local residents about what to expect.
Rural residents in forested and riparian areas, especially those with livestock, already deal with predators like cougars, coyotes and packs of wild dogs. The movement of wolves will add one more predator to the list, but delisting will offer greater tools for protecting domesticated animals from wolf attacks.
This happened earlier this year, when the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved an emergency rule that allows people to kill wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock — as long as the property owner reports the incident within 24 hours, surrenders the wolf carcass to Fish and Wildlife and lets investigators onto the site. The rule applies only to delisted areas.
In addition, recreationists and cabin users will need to learn how to live in wolf country. For example, a hiker who takes his dog on the trail needs to understand that wolves view other canines as a threat and could attack.
Wolves are thriving in north-central Washington because the habitat is friendly to favored prey like deer and elk, and south-central Washington holds plenty of similar habitat. The watchword is awareness, not alarm; communication by state and federal agencies and cooperation by local residents both are essential as the region prepares for what is likely an inevitable migration to our neck of the woods.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.