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Partial shutdown delays delisting process

Comment deadline has been extended

— The federal government’s temporary partial shutdown last month affected furloughed employees, state parks – and the public process that could lead to the delisting of the gray wolf as an endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has rescheduled some public hearings and pushed back the written comment deadline to Dec. 17.

Claiming success in restoring the animal’s numbers, the agency is proposing to delist gray wolves in the lower 48 states.

An estimated 6,100 gray wolves are in the contiguous United States, the agency said. The bulk of the wolves – 4,432 – are located in the western Great Lakes, and 1,674 more are in the northern Rocky Mountains.

Gray wolves are already delisted in the eastern one-third of Washington state, which includes part of Okanogan County. The boundary runs down from the Canadian border and east of U.S. Highway 97 to the junction of state Highway 17, then follows that route south to U.S. Highway 395.

“The commission believes the state should be responsible for the management of wolves and supports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s consideration of delisting gray wolves under the federal Endangered Species Act,” said Miranda Wecker, chairwoman of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.

She said the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, approved in 2011, “contains management tools designed to minimize wolf-livestock interactions and address potential impacts on the state’s deer and elk populations.”

Meanwhile, environmental group Conservation Northwest is encouraging residents to oppose the proposal, stating that recovery efforts in Washington still need work.

“Conservation Northwest supports protecting wolves under the Endangered Species Act until they have fully recovered, especially vulnerable packs such as those returning to Washington’s Cascade Mountains,” the group said on its website.

“Scientists have pointed to the fact that the wolves returning to western Washington in the Cascades are different from wolves in the Northern Rockies and include descendants of wolves living in coastal British Columbia, who lived separately from inland wolves for many generations.”

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed 51 gray wolves in eastern Washington, but believes the actual number may be twice that.

As of December 2012, the state counted five breeding pairs, four of them in northeastern Washington in the Diamond, Nc’icn, Huckleberry and Smackout packs. The fifth breeding pair was located in the Teanaway Pack near Wenatchee.

The state’s official wolf count will be updated next month. That could include a new breeding pair in the Lookout Pack near the Methow Valley, where three new pups were spotted this spring, Fish and Wildlife wolf biologist Scott Becker said.

A public hearing for the proposed delisting took place in September in Washington, D.C. More hearings will be in Colorado, New Mexico, California and Arizona through Dec. 3. They will also address another proposed rule, to list the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies and improve recovery efforts in the southwestern United States.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already extended the public comment period for the gray wolf delisting once, from Sept. 11 to Oct. 28.

Comments can be submitted online at www.regulations.gov, or by mail to the Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM, Arlington, VA 22203.

An emergency rule for taking lethal action against attacking wolves is now part of permanent state rules.

Last month, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission approved changes to its wildlife interaction rule. The “caught in the act” provision holds that an owner of a domestic animal, including livestock or a pet, can kill one gray wolf without a permit if the wolf is attacking the animal.

The provision is valid only where the wolf is delisted.

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