Wolves were formerly common throughout most of the state, but declined rapidly because of trapping, poisoning, and hunting as ranching and farming by European-American settlers expanded between 1850 and 1900. By the 1930’s, wolves were no longer considered a breeding species in the state. Infrequent reports of animals continued in the following decades, suggesting that individuals continued to disperse into Washington from neighboring states and British Columbia.
Wolves are protected with legal status under the federal Endangered Species Act and under state law in Washington. There are no federal or state plans to reintroduce wolves into Washington. Wolves are dispersing into eastern Washington and the North Cascades on their own from adjacent populations in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and British Columbia.
Reliable reports of wolves have increased in Washington since 2005, many of which have involved single animals. A pack with pups was confirmed in July 2008 in western Okanogan and northern Chelan counties and represented the first fully documented breeding by wolves in the state since the 1930’s. A second pack with pups was confirmed in Pend Oreille County in July 2009. Since then, several other wolf packs have been confirmed.
State and federal wildlife authorities are monitoring the activity of resident wolves to learn more about their use of habitat and to reduce potential conflicts.
Wolves are shy by nature and avoid contact with humans. As with other wildlife, wolves should never be fed or approached to avoid habituation to people. Campsites and other areas of human occupation should be kept free of accessible garbage or food. In the very rare chance of a close encounter with a wolf, people should take the same steps as with cougars and bears to avoid problems – stand tall, act aggressively, raise your voice or shout, don’t run, and slowly back away while facing the animal.
Wolves usually consider domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) as territorial threats and may attack and kill them. Responsible dog owners need to keep pets safe when recreating or living in wild country. Dogs should be kept on a leash or kept close by when walking or hiking in areas with wolves.
Although wild wolves primarily feed on elk, deer, and moose, they will occasionally prey on domestic livestock. Livestock producers can prevent or reduce the chance of such attacks in several ways, including removal of sick, injured, or dead livestock from grazing areas, use of herders and guard dogs, keeping livestock in pens or corrals at night, and delay of livestock turnout on grazing areas with wolves until after calving.
Because wolves are listed as a state and federal endangered species, it is illegal to kill, harm or harass them. Wolf sightings and suspected wolf depredation on domestic animals should be reported to federal or state authorities who will investigate incidents and take appropriate action to resolve problems.
If a livestock depredation by wolves is confirmed, the livestock owner may be eligible to receive compensation for the animal(s) lost. Funding for proactive measures to prevent wolf-livestock conflicts may be available from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
To report sightings of a wolf or wolf tracks use WDFW's Online Wolf Reporting Form or call 1-877-933-9847. To report suspected wolf depredation on livestock, contact the WDFW toll-free Reporting Hotline at 1-877-933-9847.