YAKIMA — The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation have opened a hunting season for gray wolves on their reservation that sprawls across 1.4 million acres in northeast Washington, saying wolves have reduced the number of deer and elk that tribal members hunt for food.
Meanwhile, Washington state wildlife officials are working with ranchers in the region to take proactive steps to avoid conflicts between livestock and wolves, after the state garnered criticism for killing a wolf pack that had been preying on livestock in the state's northeast corner.
The tribal hunt opened two weeks ago, though no wolves have been killed yet, according to tribal chairman John Sirois.
"We just believe we may have a few too many," Sirois said. "So when we authorized the hunt, we wanted to find an appropriate way to manage wolves and keep a balance for fish and wildlife."
Under the Colvilles' hunting regulations, up to three wolves may be killed in each of three regions on the southern half of the reservation northwest of Spokane. The season closes Feb. 28, 2013 or when all of the wolves allowed to be killed are taken in a given zone.
The tribes are continuing to develop a management plan for wolves going forward, Sirois said.
Gray wolves were eliminated as a breeding species in Washington by the 1930s, but they have since migrated to Washington from Idaho, Oregon and British Columbia. They are listed as endangered throughout Washington under state law and the western two-thirds of the state under federal law.
A wolf management plan approved late last year requires 15 successful breeding pairs for three consecutive years to remove endangered species protections. Four breeding pairs would be required in eastern Washington, the North Cascades and the South Cascades or Northwest coast, as well as three other pairs anywhere in the state.
There are currently eight confirmed wolf packs in the state five of them in the state's northeast corner. Four other packs are suspected but not yet confirmed.
Earlier this year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hired marksmen to shoot and kill members of the Wedge Pack, which was believed to have killed or injured at least 15 cattle from the Diamond M herd that grazes in a large area near the Canadian border.
Dave Ware, the agency's game division manager, said Tuesday that state officials have been attending meetings with livestock producers to give them technical advice and offer expertise about avoiding conflicts with wolves in the future.
Ware also said hunters have been calling in numerous sightings of wolves in recent weeks, and wildlife officials will be working to survey wolf populations and capture and collar wolves this winter.
At least one wolf in seven of the eight confirmed packs has been collared already, allowing wildlife officials to better track their movements. The Lookout Pack in Okanogan County is the only pack without a collared wolf.