Repopulating Gray Wolves on the Olympic Peninsula
The gray wolf was listed on the federal endangered species list in 1974 and the Washington State endangered species list in 1980. By this time the species had already been well extirpated from the Olympic Peninsula where it had been part of the natural fauna for centuries. Wolves have slowly been recovering in several western states and have recently begun repopulating eastern Washington. As a result, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife began drafting a wolf conservation and management plan in 2006 to set proper strategies for long term wolf recovery. The plan sets targets for delisting of the species, management strategies to maintain a self-sustaining population after delisting occurs, and takes into account the interests of all stakeholders including ranchers and hunters. The plan has now undergone peer review and the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission plans to release the final version in late 2010.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed a “Feasibility Study on the Reintroduction of Gray Wolves to the Olympic Peninsula” in 1999 and found that habitat in this region will support a sustainable population.1 In fact, the extirpation of wolves from the Peninsula has been a detriment to our river systems, particularly due to over-browsing by overpopulated ungulates (deer and elk) in riparian areas,2 which are vital for salmon survival.3
Unfortunately, misinformation regarding the threat of wolves to livestock, wild game and humans has been widespread and overblown. This misinformation largely stems from tales of the “wild west,”4 a time when management plans were not implemented to balance the interests of all parties. The proposed wolf management plan sets this balance by allowing for rancher/farmer financial reimbursement for livestock lost to wolves and implements lethal control measures under some circumstances, however, guard dogs can also be implemented by livestock owners as a long-term protective measure.
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