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FINAL Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington

Category: Wildlife Research and Management - Non-Game Management and Conservation

Date Published: July 28, 2011

Number of Pages: 222

Author(s): Gary Wiles, Harriet Allen, and Gerald Hayes

Contact Information: EIS Project Manager: Harriet Allen (360) 902-2694

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

A Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), with a Preferred Alternative Recommended Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for Washington has been developed. The purpose of the plan is to ensure the reestablishment of a self-sustaining population of gray wolves in Washington and to encourage social tolerance for the species by addressing and reducing conflicts. The plan serves as the state recovery plan for the species per WAC 232-12-297. Pursuant to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process, a Draft EIS was prepared in 2007-2009 which evaluated four alternatives, including a no action alternative. Other alternatives were considered but not studied in detail because they did not meet the purpose and need of the plan. The Draft EIS for the wolf plan established recovery objectives for downlisting and delisting the species, and identified strategies to address conflicts and achieve recovery.

The Draft EIS was made available for a 95-day review period. WDFW received written and email comments on the Draft EIS/ Plan from nearly 65,000 people. A scientific peer review was also conducted during this period, with 3 anonymous peer reviewers submitting comments. The Final EIS/Recommended Plan was modified as a result of the comments received on the Draft EIS/Plan, scientific peer review, WDFW review, and WDFW Wolf Working Group review.

The Final EIS evaluates the four alternatives, including the revised Preferred Alternative. The alternatives vary in how conservation of wolves in Washington could be accomplished and how conservation and management would be balanced. These included differences in the geographic distribution of recovery objectives, numbers of recovery areas, management options to address conflicts, and compensation for livestock depredation. Alternative 3 placed the greatest emphasis on protection and restoration of wolves in Washington, but had fewer management options for addressing wolf-livestock conflicts. Alternative 1 had a lower standard for protection and restoration of wolves in the state and a more aggressive lethal control strategy. Alternative 4 (the No Action Alternative) emphasized protection and restoration of wolves using existing programs, but did not develop a conservation and management plan. As a result, wolves would continue to be listed as endangered until a state recovery plan was completed that established recovery objectives.

Alternative 2, the wolf conservation and management plan, is the Preferred Alternative because it meets the goals and objectives for establishing a long-term viable wolf population in Washington while at the same time addressing wolf-livestock conflicts and interactions between wolves and wild ungulates. The Final Preferred Alternative was modified from its previous version in the Draft EIS based on the public, scientific, and agency reviews and input.

Changes to the Preferred Alternative include:

  • The distribution of breeding pairs among recovery regions was changed from the Draft to the Final EIS Preferred Alternative. Pairs that could have occurred anywhere in the state for downlisting to Sensitive Status and delisting were assigned to specific recovery regions. For downlisting to sensitive status, 3 breeding pairs that could have occurred anywhere in the state were assigned to the Eastern Washington and Northern Cascades recovery regions. For delisting, 6 breeding pairs that could have occurred anywhere in the state were assigned among the three recovery regions.
  • Lethal take by livestock owners of wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock on 6 private lands they own or lease was changed to allow it to occur at all listed statuses, rather than only after reaching threatened status, with a permit from WDFW and after documented depredation had occurred in the area and measures to resolve the problem had been deemed ineffective.
  • Lethal take by private citizens of wolves in the act of attacking pet dogs was previously allowed when wolves reached Sensitive status; in the revised Preferred Alternative, it is not allowed while wolves are listed.
  • Management of wolf-ungulate conflicts was changed. In the Draft Preferred Alternative, the WDFW could consider moving, lethal control, or other control techniques for wolves in localized areas after wolves were delisted, if research determined that wolf predation was a limiting factor for an at-risk ungulate population. In the Final Preferred Alternative, the WDFW could consider control of wolves at all listing statuses if it determines that wolf predation is a primary limiting factor for an at-risk ungulate population, and the wolf population exceeds delisting objectives within that recovery region. WDFW would consider the status of wolves statewide as well as within a specific recovery region where ungulate impacts were occurring in decision-making. The definition of an “at risk ungulate population” was revised from the Draft EIS to the Final EIS.

The Final EIS includes an analysis of the possible environmental effects of the four alternatives, including the revised Preferred Alternative 2.

Translocation (moving animals from one recovery region in Washington to another for the purpose of establishing a new population) is a conservation tool in the plan that may be used to establish a wolf population in a recovery region that wolves have not colonized through natural dispersal.

To build public tolerance for wolves, the wolf conservation and management plan outlines a range of proactive, non-lethal options and lethal management options for addressing wolf-livestock conflicts. Implementation of these would be based on the status of wolves to ensure that recovery objectives are met. Non-lethal management will be emphasized while the species is recovering and will transition to a broader range of approaches as wolves progress toward a delisted status.

The plan also includes a program to compensate livestock producers for livestock losses due to wolves. Compensation will be paid for confirmed and probable wolf losses using a two-tiered system, which also factors in the size of the land parcel being grazed.

The effects that wolves will have on elk, deer, and other ungulate populations and hunter harvest are difficult to predict, but observations from neighboring states suggest that statewide effects will be low, especially during recovery phases. As wolf numbers increase in Washington, there may be localized impacts on ungulate abundance or habitat use. Improved habitat management, flexibility in harvest strategies, and greater prevention of illegal hunting are recommended as measures for sustaining healthy ungulate populations that will support wolves and maintain harvest opportunities. Management options are included to address wolf predation on ungulates if they are found to be a primary limiting factor for an at- risk ungulate population.

Implementation of a public outreach and education program is a high priority for aiding wolf recovery. The Final Preferred Alternative includes strategies for outreach, including the distribution of information about wolves, living with wolves, preventing and addressing conflicts with livestock and dogs, and wolf-ungulate interactions. It also identifies a task to conduct public attitude and knowledge surveys to determine information needs and develop an outreach plan.