COLVILLE, Wash. - As the wolf population continues to grow in Washington, concern is growing about the impact the animal is having on the deer, elk and moose herds.
On Wednesday, more than 200 people attended a Fish and Wildlife meeting in Colville, wanting to know more about the current wolf population on big game.
"We don't know the impact yet," Maddona Leurs with the Department of Fish and Wildlife said.Farmers, hunters express concern over growing wolf population
"We are not detecting an impact yet," she added.
"There is a good natural wild prey base for wolves here and so I think a lot of hunters are interested, curious, nervous maybe because what this is going to mean to elk and deer herds. We've got a new competitor on the landscape," Leurs said.
Right now, there are seven documented wolf packs in the Colville area and north to the Canadian border. There are 51 wolves making up 10 wolf packs statewide The wolf will be on the endangered species list until there are 15 successful breeding pairs, statewide for three consecutive years.
"Having wolves in Washington again is really, if you think about it, a point of pride. We are the smallest western state, second highest human population in the west, only to California. A lot of people, little bit of land and we are still wild enough to support wolves, that's pretty cool," Leurs said.
Not everyone shares Leurs' excitement.
"There's a lot of concern about the rapid growth of the wolf population," Jamie Henneman said.
Henneman is with the Stevens County Cattlemen's Association, which represents 80 cattleman in the Colville area. She believes the state needs to do a better job collecting data about the wolf and its impact on the region.
"More rigorous ways searching for data need to be explored. Particularly we want to see what the wolf carrying capacity for our area [is,]" she said.
Henneman said the association is pushing for the wolf to be taken off the endangered species list, a move that would give ranchers more options to protect their livestock.
"People in Eastern Washington not going to go on a wolf killing spree. We're not interested annihilating, creating a blood bath. What we do want to do is to protect our livelihoods and our property if that occurs," Henneman said.
If the current wolf population trend continues, doubling every year, it's possible the animal could be delisted in a couple years.
Henneman said that may be too late.
"You are looking at loss to an industry potentially, certainly impacts to community. I think a couple years may be too long," she said.
For more information on the wolf conservation and management in Washington: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/