by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & ensions and political power plays are beginning to fracture Washington's notable effort to have 18 ordinary people craft a plan to manage and control the wolves that may be tip-toeing into the state even as you read this sentence.

And these cracks and strains are appearing just as the politically sensitive Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission comes this weekend to Colville -- the place that may be the epicenter of anti-wolf sentiment in Washington -- to ask for a briefing on the status of the draft management plan.

Ah, the plan.

The Wolf Working Group, as the assemblage of the 18 brave citizens is called, was formed a year and a half ago and was scheduled to have completed its management plan in March. (The group has been down to 17 since late last year and may lose another member to the political turmoil this month.)

But the March meeting in Ellensburg convened only days before the federal government "de-listed" the gray wolf as an endangered species. The feds had drawn a giant circle that was the recovery area for the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf -- the ones released into Yellowstone National Park and remote central Idaho 13 years ago, enabling a spectacular recovery. Even though no wolves were released here, the recovery area included the eastern third of Washington.

So here's the upshot: The federal action has created, at the least, confusion about whether wolves are still endangered in the state (the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says yes), and at the worst, political opportunism from those who claim that they are not.

Some hunting and livestock interests, both in and outside of the working group, insist that since gray wolves are no longer a federally endangered species in Eastern Washington, the plan should shift from recovery to management.

And by management, they mean trapping and relocating wolves ... or more to the point, shooting them.

Conservationists, on the other hand, say you can't very well have a plan to allow for wolves to naturally repopulate in Washington if you keep shooting them when they come in the front door.

So these tensions and the sharp disagreement about the status of the wolf in Eastern Washington sank what was supposed to be the final docking of the management plan during the working group's March meeting, and some members are not sanguine that the differences can be resolved at the next meeting, May 21 in Ellensburg.

And into all this now steps the Fish and Wildlife Commission, which will be holding a regularly scheduled meeting May 2-3 in Colville. The Commission alternates meeting sites between Eastern and Western Washington.

On Saturday morning at 8, the commissioners will be briefed on the wolf management plan by Fish and Wildlife's Diversity Division Manager Rocky Beach, and Paul De Morgan, a facilitator who has been helping the disparate elements of the group work together.

It makes sense for the commissioners to hear about wolves in the part of the state where wolves are first appearing, Beach says. Others see murkier motivations and are suspicious that the wolf plan is being discussed in a part of the state that is strongly against wolves reentering the state.

In January, the Stevens County Cattlemen's Association attracted 150 people to a forum on the dangers of wolves. Stevens County Commissioner Tony Delgado even brought a severed wolf head (a wolf he had shot as a young man in Canada) to the meeting and plunked it down on the panelists' table.

Delgado and other county commissioners have also said the state should send $2 million to Stevens County in advance for expected losses to livestock and pets.

The FWC members have been invited to a dinner and social hour with the Stevens County Commissioners before the meeting this week, which raises concerns among some working group members about politicking.

The divisiveness has hit the working group, too. Last fall the members were split into a conservation caucus and a producers caucus to aid negotiations.

"It's not fair, we were lumped into two different groups -- people who wear cowboy hats and people who don't," says Tommy Petrie, Jr., a paper mill worker and president of the Pend Oreille Sportsmen's Club.

It's true that almost every member of the so-called producers caucus does wear a cowboy hat -- there are even some who never take theirs off during the meetings -- but it oversimplifies, Petrie says.

"Some of us who wear cowboy hats share a broad view on conservation, and there are others in the other group who are willing to talk more about hunting and compensation (for livestock kills)," Petrie says.

The worry he and others share is that the almost-completed wolf management plan will be lost if opposing sides polarize.

And the white-hot emotion that surrounds the wolf issue often makes rational conversation impossible. There is a concern the FWC, which will eventually adopt a management plan after peer review and public hearings, will pander to anti-wolf sentiment. Conservation groups have been trying to rally members to attend the Colville meeting and provide some balance to the testimony, "so it doesn't become an anti-wolf rally," as one Spokane conservationist says.

The Fish and Wildlife Commissioners will hear a report on the status of a draft wolf management plan at 8 am Saturday, May 3, at the Stevens County Sheriff's Ambulance Training Center Conference Room, 435 N. Hwy. 395 in Colville. Send comments

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