OLYMPIA – Washington state's wolf population grew by 28 percent last year and added at least two new packs, according to an annual report released today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
By the end of 2016, the state was home to a minimum of 115 wolves, 20 packs, and 10 successful breeding pairs documented by WDFW field staff during surveys conducted late last year. The findings draw on information gathered from aerial surveys, remote cameras, wolf tracks, and signals from radio-collared wolves in 13 packs.
The number of animals documented last December represents an increase of at least 25 individual wolves since 2015, despite the confirmed deaths of 14 wolves from various causes. Wolf counts are expressed as "minimum estimates," due to the difficulty of accounting for every animal, especially lone wolves without a pack.
The report is available on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf
All but eliminated from western states in the last century, Washington's wolf population has grown steadily since 2008, when wildlife managers documented the state's first resident pack since the 1930s in Okanogan County.
Gray wolves are listed under state law as endangered throughout Washington state. In the western two-thirds of the state, they are also listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
All of the wolf packs documented in the report were found east of the Cascade Mountains, and 15 of Washington's 20 known wolf packs are located in a four-county area in the northeast corner of the state. The Sherman pack, one of the two new packs confirmed last year, is in that area. The other new pack, the Touchet pack, is in southeastern Washington, east of Walla Walla.
"Washington's wolf population continues to grow at about 30 percent each year," said WDFW Director Jim Unsworth. "That increase, along with the concentration of wolves in northeast Washington, underscores the importance of collaborating with livestock producers and local residents to prevent conflict between wolves and domestic animals."
State management of wolves is guided by the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan of 2011 and a protocol for reducing conflicts between wolves and livestock adopted by WDFW in conjunction with its 18-member Wolf Advisory Group.
The report outlines an array of non-lethal strategies WDFW employed last year to reduce conflicts between wolves and domestic animals, including cost-sharing agreements with 55 ranchers who took proactive steps to protect their livestock. State assistance included range riders to check on livestock, guard dogs, fox lights, fladry for fences and reports on the packs' movements.
No conflicts with livestock were documented for 16 out of the 20 wolf packs identified in the report. Four packs – and one lone wolf – were each involved in at least one event leading to the death of a cow or calf in 2016.
The largest losses were inflicted by the Profanity Peak pack, which killed or injured at least 10 cattle on a grazing allotment in the Colville National Forest. Consistent with the state's wolf plan and protocol for lethal action, WDFW removed seven members of the pack after non-lethal measures failed to stop wolves from preying on a rancher's herd.
Seven other wolf mortalities referenced in the report were the result of legal tribal harvest, other human actions, and unknown causes.
"We know that some level of conflict is inevitable between wolves and livestock sharing the landscape," said Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf manager. "For that reason, we are encouraged by the growing number of livestock producers using proactive, non-lethal measures to protect their herds and flocks over the past two years."
The report notes that WDFW paid a total of $77,978 in 2016 to compensate ranchers for their losses.
Contributors to WDFW's annual wolf report include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Wildlife Service, the Confederated Colville Tribes and the Spokane Tribe of Indians.