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Know the West

Wolves have friend in Washington

  Wolves may yet howl in Washington state's Olympic National Park now that Norm Dicks, the Olympic Peninsula's influential congressman, supports the cause.

But the effort hinges on a feasibility study that has yet to be funded. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the lead federal agency on wolf recovery, is already involved in recovery efforts in the Great Lakes, the Southwest and in the northern Rockies where wolves are the same subspecies - the northern gray wolf - as those that once roamed the peninsula. That, says Ed Bangs, the agency's wolf recovery coordinator, makes wolves in the Olympics a low priority.

Dicks' support, however, may break the inertia.

"Rarely in public life do you get a chance to correct a historic mistake," he told 150 people at last month's "wolf summit," a conference he co-sponsored with Defenders of Wildlife at the Olympic Park Institute. "Persecution of the wolf was a mistake."

Dicks, the ranking Democrat on the House Interior Appropriations Committee, wants to fit a feasibility study in next year's federal budget. Because the peninsula has few farmers and ranchers, Dicks says, the issue is far less controversial than it was in the Yellowstone area.

Still, some landowners worry about wolves causing restrictions on private land. "This is a bum deal," Clallam County Commissioner Phil Kitchel said at the summit. "I think it will happen no matter what local people think."

* John Rosapepe