Category: Non-Game Management and Conservation
Published: April 20, 2020
Each year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) submits a report to the federal government for Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 6 activities, which details the results of its annual gray wolf (Canis lupus) 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 of 108 in areas managed by WDFW and 37 wolves reported on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CTCR) in 2019. 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 ESA in 1973. In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) ended ESA 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 1981. They retained that classification throughout the state in 2019, regardless of their status under federal law.
Washington’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 is divided into Recovery Regions: Eastern Washington, the Northern Cascades, and the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast. In addition, a WDFW-approved protocol sets forth criteria for the department to collaborate with livestock producers to minimize conflicts with wolves.
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 lead role in the other two Recovery Regions in 2019. Wolves that inhabit tribal lands in the Eastern Washington Recovery Region are managed by those specific tribal entities.
Wolf Recovery and Management in 2019
Key developments in 2019 included:
- The state’s minimum year-end wolf population increased by 11 percent and marks the 11th consecutive year of population growth. As of December 31, WDFW counted 108 wolves in 21 packs of which 10 were successful breeding pairs in 2019. These numbers compare with 97 wolves in 22 packs, and 11 breeding pairs one year earlier. Because this is a minimum count, the actual number of wolves in Washington is likely higher.
- The CTCR reported 37 wolves in five packs in 2019. The CTCR considers the population of wolves on their lands recovered and did not allocate resources into year-end counts for 2019. Numbers provided by CTRC reflect winter numbers incidentally gathered by biologists, hunters, trappers, and public observations rather than specific efforts to count wolves that include the year-end track, aerial, and camera surveys conducted by WDFW and other co-managers for 2019. Therefore, it should be noted that these numbers are not comparable to previous year’s numbers and come with more uncertainty.
- Pack sizes (number of individuals) ranged from two to nine wolves. Most packs contained three to six individuals.
- 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 23 percent per year.
- State, tribal, and federal wildlife managers captured 19 wolves (16 new wolves, three recaptures, and one pup that was too small to collar) from 14 packs during the year and monitored a total of 28 unique radio-collared wolves from 16 different packs in 2019.
- Two packs formed in 2019. The Sullivan Creek Pack formed in Okanogan County and wolves also re-established the area formally occupied by the OPT Pack to form the Kettle Pack in northeast Washington.
- Each year’s population total reflects population losses and population gains. WDFW documented 21 wolf mortalities during 2019: nine were removed by the department in response to wolf-caused livestock deaths and injuries, six were legally harvested by tribal hunters, one was killed by a cougar, and one died of unknown causes. Four other documented human-caused deaths included two wolves killed by landowners protecting livestock (caught in the act), one wolf killed by a landowner due to a perceived threat to human safety, and one mortality still under investigation.
- 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/conservation/gray_wolf/mgmt_plan.html). Guidance from the plan states that the department will 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 14 cattle as being killed by wolves during the year. Another 11 cattle were confirmed to have been injured by wolves. Additionally, one mortality of a calf was considered a probable depredation by wolves after investigation. Four packs (15 percent of the known packs) were involved in at least one confirmed livestock mortality.
- WDFW spent a total of $1,518,659 on wolf management activities during 2019, including $134,937 in reimbursement to 33 livestock producers for Damage Prevention Cooperative Agreements – Livestock (DPCA-L) non-lethal conflict prevention expenses (range riding, specialized lighting and fencing, etc.), $251,100 for 11 contracted range riders, $8,773 to two producers for livestock losses caused by wolves, $30,103 to one producer for indirect losses, $128,613 for lethal removal operations in response to depredations on livestock, and $965,133 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.