Skagit County wolves have Western Washington lawmaker howling

Roger Harnack

Wolves moving into Skagit County have at least one Western Washington lawmaker howling.
"Wolves present a threat to farmers, livestock and pets," Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley said. "They don’t go hungry when they cannot find game."
Wagoner's comments on the growing threat come just days after the state Department of Fish and Wildlife released its 2018 wolf report.
The report shows a minimum of 126 individual wolves, 27 packs and 15 successful breeding pairs, an increase over the prior year.
Six new packs were documented last year, including the new Diobsud Creek Pack in Skagit County, which includes Wagoner's hometown.
Prior to 2008, no wolves were documented in Washington state.
“Speaking to small numbers of ‘breeding pairs’ belies the actual large number of wolves inhabiting our state, which is well over 100 wolves," he said. "I disagree with the thought that these animals moving into Skagit County and breeding is good policy."
Eastern Washington lawmakers have been howling for more than a decade about the sudden wolf population in rural counties, mostly in Northeast Washington.
Last year, the Diobsud Creek Pack is the first to be documented west of the Cascade Mountains, near the state's most populous areas.
And if the state Department of Fish and Wildlife — along with Democrats in the state House and Senate — has its way, it won't be the last pack.
According to Wagoner, wolf advocates want to see at least eight breeding pairs in the Cascade Mountains.
That concerns Wagoner.
“We have already witnessed the havoc wrecked on wild game populations, domestic livestock and even family pets in Eastern Washington and Montana," he said. "In addition to the fears for the well-being of our rural residents, I am concerned a further increase in wolves will exacerbate the existing elk problems as they would seek the safer areas on the agricultural valley floor.
"These are foreseeable outcomes and they do not benefit my constituents.”
Last week, Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind celebrated the increasing wolf population outlined in the report from his employees.
“We’re pleased to see our state’s wolf population continue to grow and begin to expand to the west side of the Cascades,” Susewind said.
The push to increase the wolf population comes as the federal government considers removing the gray wolf from the national Endangered Species Act list.
Wolves are not considered “endangered” in Eastern Washington, which has been grappling with managing the predator in the wake of ever-increasing conflicts between wolves, livestock and rural residents.
According to Wolf Specialist Ben Maletzke, at least 11 cattle and a sheep were killed by wolves in five packs last year. Another 19 cattle and two sheep were known to have been attacked.
As a result of the depredations, the state killed wolves in the Togo, Smackout and Old Profanity Peak packs. And the Colville Tribe now has an unlimited open season on wolves on the reservation in Ferry and Okanogan counties.
In another incident last week, a Spokane Indian tribal member also killed a wolf that reportedly was following a woman walking along a rural road in southern Stevens County near Wellpinit.
Spokane tribal officials have not yet publicly released information on that incident.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife, however, confirmed the incident and has requested the tribe return a GPS tracking collar that was on the wolf.
Wolf management has been a hot button issue for the last several years in the Legislature.
In Janurary of this year, Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, took exception to a push by a Western Washington lawmaker who wanted to make it illegal to kill a wolf.
In response to Bainbridge Island Democrat Rep. Sherry Appleton's push to ban killing wolves under House Bill 1045, Kretz introduced a bill to turn her wealthy island into a wolf sanctuary.
Kretz's House Bill 1639 would create a wolf sanctuary on Bainbridge Island, so islanders could enjoy "the largely untapped wolf tourism industry."
His bill would allow for killing wolves only after "every four confirmed wolf kills of domestic dogs; for every four confirmed wolf kills of domestic cats; and for every two confirmed wolf kills of 2 children."
His tongue-in-cheek bill was referred to the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, where Democrats have blocked it from getting a hearing.
Appleton's bill is languishing in the same committee.