As controversy rages over the killing of the Wedge wolf pack in Washington State, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are quietly managing one of the state’s eight remaining packs, with a second one possibly to be identified come spring, the pup-birthing season.
Off the reservation the issue is whether killing the wolves was warranted, even after they became accustomed to feeding on livestock instead of hunting game. This was the logic behind the annihilation of the Wedge pack earlier this fall.
On the Colville reservation the underlying issue is whether there are too many wolves to be a danger to game such as elk, deer and moose, which tribal members hunt for subsistence. Colville methods include soliciting tribal members’ input, closely monitoring the wolves’ development and using killing as an absolute last resort. If it has to be done at all, it would be accompanied by the appropriate cultural ceremonies.
Two wolves were captured on the reservation in early June, a male and female, and pups were heard yipping and howling. That pack has been named the Nc’icn, the Okanogan word for wolf. On September 2 another wolf was captured about 25 or 30 miles west. Trail cameras had routinely been photographing two wolves in the area. Tribal biologists Eric Krausz and Donovan Antoine caught one of those, though they are hesitant to assume it’s a new pack.
“There were only two individuals and no evidence of any pups through tracks or howling,” said Krausz, the wildlife biologist for the tribes’ wildlife-management subdivision. “The female we did trap and collar wasn’t lactating and didn’t have any evidence of breeding. It’s hard to call that a pack yet until breeding has occurred.”
The wolf was trapped and collared in the Strawberry Mountain area of the reservation and will most likely be called the Strawberry pack if and when it’s proven to be a true pack. On a reservation of nearly 1.4 million acres, another pack or two may be inevitable, said Joe Peone, Colville tribal member and director of fish and wildlife for the tribes. Krausz, though a little more cautious, acknowledged the possibility as well. He had recently checked on location points for the latest female wolf captured and suspected she was responsible for multiple sightings.
A wolf reporting form developed for tribal members gave what Krausz and his colleagues considered interesting results. It asked observers to specify where the animals were observed, whether it was an actual sighting or something peripheral such as tracks, howling or scat, and requested they take measurements where possible to more accurately determine if it was a wolf. The 16-question survey received 235 responses, said Randy Friedlander, the Wildlife Division Manager and a Colville tribal member. Tribal and non-tribal members were invited to respond, though they specifically wanted to hear from tribal members.
Thirty percent of respondents said that spiritual or cultural importance was very important, while 47 percent said it was of little or no importance. Asked what they would consider to be sound reasons for harvesting a wolf, just 16 percent said for ceremonial or spiritual purposes such as regalia, whereas 40 percent responded that it would be to help promote healthy elk, deer and moose populations.
Predation on cattle didn’t seem to be a big concern. Only 20 percent listed that as their biggest fear, and in another question asking if the tribe should pay damages for confirmed cattle depredation, nearly 64 percent said no. When it came to wolf management, results showed a high preference for hunting by tribal members and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department biologists. Only 13 percent felt wolves should not be hunted at all. Poisoning was definitely not desired, with only 16 percent saying it was acceptable. These results will all factor into management plans should wolf populations continue to increase.
Washington is divided into two zones regarding wolves. In the western two thirds of the state, wolves are listed as endangered by both federal and state regulations. In the eastern portion, where the Colville Reservation is, wolves have been de-listed by federal law, but Washington State still lists them as endangered. The Colville Tribe plans to manage wolves within the reservation boundaries.
“Since our population doesn’t sit within the endangered area we can develop our own plan to manage them,” Peone said. “I think that’s important for tribes.”
There is controversy throughout the country in both Native communities and elsewhere on how best to handle expanding numbers of wolves. The Wildlife Department and tribal chairman John Sirous agree on the management path for the Colville Confederated Tribes.
“We’ll manage them,” Peone said. “We’re not in a position where we can allow our ungulate populations to drop to a point where it’s not providing that sustenance opportunity for our membership. There’s a constant need for elk, deer and moose meat. I think it’s wrong not to manage wolves.”
Sirous’s comments were similar.
“It’s about being in balance,” he said. “If you remove all the predators from the equation you’ll find other impacts happen as well. Nature has a good way of setting up that balance for us to follow.”
Krausz was equally adamant.
“There’s definitely a need to manage these animals, and we know that,” he said. “We’re not going to sit idly by and cross our fingers and hope for the best. I’m ultimately responsible for managing big game and providing subsistence opportunities for tribal members and their families for the long haul. That includes managing predator populations, whether it’s black bear, gray wolf or cougar.”
Krausz was equally adamant. “There’s definitely a need to manage these animals and we know that. We’re not going to sit idly by and cross our fingers and hope for the best. I’m ultimately responsible for managing big game and providing subsistence opportunities for tribal members and their families for the long haul. That includes managing predator populations whether it’s black bear, gray wolf or cougar.”
Besides the need to manage the animals, there is a ceremonial side to wolf management, if it comes to that, Krausz said.
“I think there will be a lot of excitement about the opportunity to harvest a gray wolf at some point,” he said. “There’s a cultural side too, dress and dance are involved with that historically and it’s an opportunity for tribal members they haven’t had for almost a century.”
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