Freshman Congressman Dan Newhouse has introduced a bill to remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List in Washington, Oregon and Utah.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — the agency charged with deciding what species are put on or removed from the endangered list — proposed to take wolves off the list nationally in 2013. But, that recommendation was controversial with conservation groups because while wolves have recovered well in some places, in other areas including the Cascades, populations are still quite low.
Decades after being nearly wiped out, Washington’s population is growing as wolves move in from Idaho and Canada. The population is estimated at about 68 animals in 16 known packs, mostly in the northeast part of the state, according to a recent report from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Wolves remain on the state’s endangered species list.
But on the federal level, the state is split into two separate wolf populations. In the eastern part of the state, wolves are considered part of the Northern Rocky Mountain population, which was taken off the endangered list in 2011.
In the western two-thirds of the state, including Yakima County, wolves are considered part of the Pacific Northwest population, which is much smaller and still listed as endangered.
In a news release announcing the bill, Newhouse called removing the species from the list “long overdue.”
“States are fully qualified to manage gray wolf populations responsibly and are better equipped to meet the needs of local communities, ranchers, livestock and wildlife populations,” Newhouse said in a statement. “Delisting the gray wolf under ESA would allow state wildlife officials to manage wolf populations more effectively.”
In addition to leaving management to the states, the bill would prevent states from providing protections to wolves that are stronger than those found in the federal Endangered Species Act.
A spokesman for Conservation Northwest, which works on wolf recovery issues, called the bill disappointing. “We’re talking about 12 wolves in Washington and another six or so in Oregon. Until those Cascade wolves are on stronger footing, we think it’s important to protect them,” said Chase Gunnell.
He added that delisting decisions are not usually made by lawmakers, but that it’s happened before for controversial species like wolves.
Washington’s management plan sets a target of 15 known breeding pairs — with at least three located in each region of the state — as the point when the species can be considered recovered. Currently, the state has five known breeding pairs.
Rep. Greg Walden, D-Ore., and Rep. Chris Steward, R-Utah, co-sponsored the bill.
Last week, Oregon officials announced that the state was considering taking wolves off its endangered list as well. The state’s biologists say that a population of 77 animals and four documented breeding pairs counted in recent years meet its recovery criteria.