SPOKANE, Wash. - This week, a Republican lawmaker who represents eastern Washington ranch country introduced what many see as a poke in the eye for his colleagues who support wolf recovery. The new bill would move wolves to the west side of the Cascades. The proposal was immediately taken as a joke. But some conservationists say: moving wolves west is not a bad idea.
Washington's wolf population is now concentrated in the northeastern part of the state. That’s where wolves from Canada and Idaho converge. And that's where they meet the cattle of Rep. Joel Kretz's constituents. And they don’t want the wolves around.
“Most of the support for wolves appears to be in areas where there are no wolves," Kretz says. "They love wolves in the west side of the state. Particularly urban areas. I'd love to see 'em in Volunteer Park, for example.”
Volunteer Park is in the middle of Seattle.
Kretz's bill includes a provision to send wolves to “islands sized at least 50 square miles.” That’s a not-so-subtle jab at state Sen. Kevin Ranker. He's a Democrat who represents the San Juan Islands. He's also an outspoken wolf supporter.
Ranker calls the bill frivolous.
“What we're seeing in this bill, by Rep. Kretz, is a jab. It's not a real bill. It's a waste of time.”
But Derrick Knowles of Conservation Northwest says, maybe it should be a real bill.
“Yeah, I think Rep. Kretz has a good sense of humor and he's trying to be funny, but he's actually pointing out something that's a really good opportunity for common ground.”
Historically, the gray wolf population stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean, where they were known to prey on salmon. Knowles isn't suggesting dropping wolves into downtown Seattle or Orcas Island. But there are other locales ripe for wolves, he says – like around Mt. Saint Helens. In fact, Washington has set a goal to have breeding pairs of wolves in each region of the state.
But it might be politically difficult to move them there. That’s one lesson Carter Niemeyer learned when he helped bring wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Later, he became the federal wolf recovery coordinator in Idaho.
Niemeyer says “translocation,” as it’s known has its consequences.
“Suddenly there’s a lot of accountability. You put them here. You’re to blame for these wolves causing problems in our part of the state," he says. "Whereas if the wolves walk there on their own, there’s not as much finger pointing.”
So far, Rep. Joel Kretz has three sponsors for his bill. All are Republicans from eastern Washington.
On the Web:
HB 1258 - Wolf relocation bill (Washington Legislature)
Gray Wolf Conservation and Management in Washington (Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife)