OLYMPIA – The recovery of Washington's wolf population continued in 2018 as numbers of individual wolves, packs, and successful breeding pairs reached their highest levels since wolves were virtually eliminated from the state in the 1930s.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife published its annual year-end report Thursday, which shows the state has a minimum of 126 individual wolves, 27 packs, and 15 successful breeding pairs – male and female adults who have raised at least two pups that survived through the end of the year. A year ago, those numbers were 122, 22, and 14, respectively.
In 2018, for the first time, WDFW documented the presence of a pack west of the Cascade Crest. A single male wolf in Skagit County, captured in 2016 and fitted with a radio collar, has been traveling with a female wolf through the winter, thereby achieving pack status. Biologists chose the pack’s name – Diobsud Creek.
“We’re pleased to see our state’s wolf population continue to grow and begin to expand to the west side of the Cascades,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “We will continue to work with the public to chart the future management of this important native species.”
Information and survey findings are compiled from state, tribal, and federal wildlife specialists based on aerial surveys, remote cameras, wolf tracks, and signals from radio-collared wolves. As in past years, the annual count provides estimates of the minimum numbers of wolves in the state, because it is not possible to count every wolf.
Virtually eliminated from the state by the 1930s, Washington’s gray wolf population has rebounded since 2008, when WDFW wildlife managers documented a resident pack in Okanogan County. Most packs occupy land in Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties in the northeast corner of the state, but the survey revealed increasing numbers in Washington’s southeast corner and the north-central region.
Although the 2018 annual count showed a modest increase in individual wolves, the upturn in new packs and breeding pairs in those areas set the stage for more growth this year, said Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf policy lead.
“Packs and breeding pairs are the building blocks of population growth,” Martorello said. ‘It’s reassuring to see our wolf population occupying more areas of the landscape.”
State management of wolves is guided by the department’s 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, which establishes standards for wolf-management actions.
Since 1980, gray wolves have been listed under state law as endangered throughout Washington. In the western two-thirds of the state, they are classified as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
As required for all state-listed species, WDFW is currently conducting a periodic status review of the state’s gray wolf population to evaluate the species’ listing status, Martorello said.
“The state’s wolf management plan lays out a variety of recovery objectives, but the ultimate determination of a species’ listing status is whether it remains at risk of failing or declining,” Martorello said.
The 2018 annual count reflects the net one-year change in Washington’s wolf population after accounting for births, deaths, and wolves that have traveled into or out of Washington to form new packs or join existing ones. In 2018, two wolves dispersed with one forming the Butte Creek pack in southeastern Washington while the other wolf traveled through Oregon down to Idaho.
WDFW also recorded 12 wolf deaths during 2018. Six (6) were legally killed by tribal hunters; four (4) were killed by WDFW in response to repeated wolf-caused livestock deaths; and two (2) other mortalities apparently were caused by humans and remained under investigation at year’s end.
Ben Maletzke, WDFW statewide wolf specialist, said the 2018 annual report reinforces the profile of wolves as a highly resilient, adaptable species whose members are well-suited to Washington’s rugged, expansive landscape. He said their numbers in Washington have increased by an average of 28 percent per year since 2008.
“Wolves routinely face threats to their survival – from humans, other animals, and nature itself,” he said. “But despite each year’s ups and downs, the population in Washington has grown steadily and probably will keep increasing by expanding their range in the north and south Cascades of Washington.”
Maletzke said the 2018 survey documented six packs formed in 2018 – Butte Creek, Nason, OPT, Sherman, Diobsud Creek and Nanuem – while one pack, Five Sisters, disbanded due to unknown causes.
With funding support from state lawmakers, WDFW has steadily increased its efforts to collaborate with livestock producers, conservation groups, and local residents to minimize conflict between wolves and livestock and other domestic animals, Maletzke said.
WDFW used several strategies last year to prevent and minimize conflicts, including cost-sharing agreements with 31 ranchers who worked with WDFW to protect their livestock. State financial and technical assistance helped to support the use of conflict prevention measures which included range riders to check on livestock, guard dogs, lighting, flagging for fences, and data sharing on wolf movements.
Maletzke said five of the 27 packs known to exist in Washington last year were involved in at least one livestock mortality. WDFW investigators confirmed wolves killed at least 11 cattle and one sheep and injured another 19 cattle and two sheep. WDFW processed five livestock damage claims totaling $7,536 to compensate producers for direct wolf-caused livestock losses and one indirect claim for $5,950, which compensates the producer for reduced weight gains and other factors associated with wolf-livestock interaction.