Category: Non-Game Management and Conservation
Published: April 5, 2019
Each year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) submits a report to the federal government for section 6 activities, which details the results of its annual gray wolf population survey and summarizes wolf recovery and management activities from the previous year.
Washington's wolf population was virtually eliminated in the 1930s but has rebounded since 2008, when WDFW wildlife managers documented a resident pack in Okanogan County. Since then, the number of wolves has increased every year, to a minimum total of 126 in 2018. Most packs range across public and private land in Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties in the northeast corner of the state, but increasing numbers are present in southeast Washington and the north-central region.
Gray Wolves' Legal Status
Gray wolves have been classified as endangered in all or part of Washington since federal lawmakers enacted the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973. In 2011, the federal government ended the protection for wolves in the eastern third of the state but preserved it for those in the western two-thirds.
Under state law, wolves were listed as endangered in 1980. They retained that classification throughout the state in 2018, regardless of their status under federal law.
Within this legal framework, WDFW had lead wolf management responsibility in the Eastern Washington recovery region, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had the leading role in the other two recovery regions in 2018. Wolves that inhabit tribal lands in the Eastern Washington recovery area are managed by those specific tribal entities.
Washington State's wolf recovery activities are guided by the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, adopted in 2011 by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. Under the plan, Washington contains three recovery areas: Eastern Washington, the Northern Cascades, and the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast. In addition, criteria set forth by the WDFW-approved protocol, specifies strategies for the department to collaborate with livestock producers to minimize conflicts with wolves.
Wolf Recovery and Management in 2018
Key developments in 2018 included:
- The state's minimum year-end wolf population increased for the 10th consecutive year. As of December 31, the state was home to at least 126 wolves, 27 packs, and 15 successful breeding pairs. These numbers compare with 122 wolves, 22 packs, and 14 breeding pairs one year earlier. Because this is a minimum count the actual number of wolves in Washington is likely higher.
- Pack sizes (number of members) ranged from two to 11 wolves. Most packs contained three to five individuals.
- The wolf count reflects the results of field surveys conducted during winter months by state, tribal, and federal wildlife managers. Information is collected from aerial surveys, remote cameras, analysis of wolf tracks, and signals from radio-collared wolves. State, tribal, and federal wildlife managers captured nine wolves (six new wolves and three recaptures) from eight packs during the year and monitored a total of 20 unique radio-collared wolves from 15 different packs.
- As in past years, survey results represent "minimum counts" of wolves in the state, due to the difficulty of accounting for every animal – especially lone wolves without a pack.
- Since the first WDFW survey in 2008, the state's wolf population has grown by an average of 28 percent per year.
- Six packs formed in 2018 including the Diobsud Creek, Butte Creek, Nason, Naneum, OPT, and Sherman packs and one pack (Five Sisters) disbanded due to unknown causes.
- The state's first wolf pack in Western Washington in the modern era was confirmed. Wildlife managers determined that a single wolf found and collared in 2017 in Skagit County was traveling with a second wolf in late 2018, enabling them to confirm the existence of the two-member Diobsud Creek pack.
- Each year's population total reflects population losses as well as population gains. WDFW documented 12 mortalities during 2018, including four removed by the department in response to wolf-caused livestock deaths; six legally killed by tribal hunters; and two other human-caused deaths that remained under investigation when this report was prepared.
- Wolf populations are managed to ensure progress toward the recovery goals established in the department's 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/gray-wolf/management-plan). The plan requires the department to minimize the loss of cattle and other livestock without undermining the long-term prospects for the recovery of a self-sustaining wolf population.
- WDFW investigators confirmed 11 cattle and one sheep as being killed by wolves during the year. Another 19 cattle and two sheep were confirmed to have been injured by wolves. Additionally, one injured cow and one mortality of a calf were considered probable depredations by wolves after investigation. Five packs (19 percent of the packs known to exist at some point during the year) were involved in at least one confirmed livestock mortality.
- WDFW spent a total of $1,217,326 on wolf management activities during the 2018 fiscal year, including $257,421 in reimbursement to 31 livestock producers for Damage Prevention Cooperative Agreements – Livestock (DPCAL) non-lethal conflict prevention expenses (range riding, specialized lighting and fencing, etc.), $241,010 for eight contracted range riders, $7,536 to five producers for livestock losses caused by wolves, $5,950 to one producer for indirect losses, and $705,409 for wolf management and research activities.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Confederated Colville Tribes, Spokane Tribe of Indians, USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2019. Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2018 Annual Report. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Ellensburg, WA, USA.