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Colville tribe hunting wolves to protect deer, elk, chairman says
After eight months of deliberation, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation decided earlier this month to open a hunt on wolves living within the boundaries of its reservation, John Sirois, chairman of the Colville Business Council said in a telephone interview Friday.
The tribe made the decision after surveying its membership, and discerning through the work of its biologists that the wolves on its reservation are denting the local population of deer and elk, which tribal members hunt for subsistence. The tribe elected to allow a wolf hunt in order protect the tribe's food supply, Sirois said.
"Wolves are starting to have an impact," Sirois said. "We decided it was much better to manage the population so we can keep the numbers down a little bit. We would rather do that than what the state Fish and Wildlife did and take a whole pack. We didn't want a helicopter coming through."
Sirois was referring to the decision by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in September to kill an entire pack of wolves in the northeastern part of the state, called the Wedge pack, after a rancher complained of cattle killed by the pack.
One of the members of Wedge Pack. All of the wolves in the pack were killed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Photo, courtesy Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Killing the seven members of the pack with a marksman shooting from a helicopter was highly controversial. Some, including UW wildlife biologist John Marzluff, say the state didn't need to kill the Wedge pack. See his op ed in the Seattle Times.
The tribe's decision to allow a hunt has also been hot.
"Oh man, it is blowing up," Sirios said. "I have a lot of hateful messages from people, it's 'Why are you killing your brother.' The decision wasn't made easily, there was a lot of debate. But in terms of feeding our people, this is one we had to make."
Sirois said he doubts many wolves will be taken. "It is not as easy as people think. We have authorized three areas, with threes wolves for each one. If they get one per zone, they will be lucky."
No wolves have been taken yet, Sirois said.
The Colville's reservation is a sprawling expanse of largely open country, in northcentral Washington. The tribe successfully trapped and collared several wolves last summer, Sirois said, part of its work to monitor the wolves within the tribe's borders. At least two packs are believed to roam the rez. Collared animals may not be legally hunted.
Hunting with tribal permits on the Colville reservation is only open to tribal members.
Wolves are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act west of SR 97, but east of it, on the tribe's reservation, they are not. The tribe also has authority to set its own hunting regulations for tribal members on its lands. The season runs until the end of February.
Sirois said the wolf is an important animal to the tribe culturally. "It is definitely one of the animals we hold sacred, and that is one of the major internal discussions we had. But we also weighed the fact that a lot of people are utilizing the deer and elk as subsistence foods. In order to have some balance, it was something we had to do."