Published: April 1, 2016
Gray wolves (Canis lupus) were classified as an endangered species in Washington under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973. In 2011, wolves in the eastern third of Washington were removed from federal protections under the ESA. Wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington continue to be protected under the ESA and are classified as an endangered species under federal law. In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began to develop an environmental assessment to guide management of wolves in the federally listed portion of Washington.
In December 2011, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Commission formally adopted the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan to guide recovery and management of gray wolves as they naturally recolonize the State of Washington. At present, wolves are classified as an endangered species under state law (WAC 232-12-014) throughout Washington regardless of federal status. Washington is composed of three recovery areas which include Eastern Washington, the Northern Cascades, and the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast. The WDFW is the primary agency responsible for managing wolves in the Eastern Washington recovery area while WDFW works under a section 6 agreement with USFWS in the federally listed portion of the state. Wolves that inhabit tribal lands in the Eastern Washington recovery area are managed by those specific tribal entities.
WDFW personnel, partners, and volunteers deployed a minimum of 207 cameras statewide for a total of 14,453 camera nights during 2015. A minimum of 112 cameras were deployed for an estimated 7,585 camera nights in the Eastern Washington recovery area, a minimum of 62 cameras were deployed for an estimated 3,741 camera nights in the North Cascades recovery area, and a minimum of 33 cameras were deployed in the Southern Cascades recovery area for an estimated 3,127 camera nights. Images of wolves were captured in all recovery areas except the Southern Cascades.
The minimum estimated wolf population in Washington increased by approximately 32% over 2014 estimates to at least 90 known wolves in 18 known packs including at least 8 breeding pairs. Pack sizes ranged from 2 to 8 and averaged 4.4 wolves per pack. One pack that existed in 2014 was no longer considered a pack at the end of 2015 while another pack shifted its activity center to Idaho and was considered an Idaho pack at years end. State and tribal biologists captured 14 unique wolves a total of 15 times from 9 different packs (plus 1 lone individual) and monitored a total of 22 unique radio collared wolves from 13 different packs that existed in Washington at some point during 2015. We documented 7 mortalities in Washington during the year and the causes of mortality included human-caused (n = 3), unknown (n = 1), and legal harvest (n = 3).
Wolf populations were managed to ensure progress towards recovery goals while also minimizing chronic loss of livestock caused by wolves. Seven cattle were confirmed wolf-kills while 1 dog was confirmed to be injured by wolves. Three packs (15% of known packs that existed at some point during the year) were involved in at least 1 confirmed livestock mortality. No wolves were removed through agency control actions during 2015. The WDFW processed 3 damage claims and paid a total of $15,174.60 to compensate livestock producers who experienced livestock losses caused by wolves.