Published: April 7, 2023
This report presents information on the status, distribution, and management of wolves in the State of Washington from Jan. 1, 2022 through Dec. 31, 2022.
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. This document 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 to a minimum of 216 wolves reported in 2022. Packs range across public and private land in Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties in the northeast corner of the state and Asotin, Garfield, Columbia, and Walla Walla counties in southeast Washington, but increasing numbers are present in Okanogan, Chelan, and Kittitas counties, in the north-central and central Washington region. Washington’s first pack to recolonize the south Cascades was documented this winter.
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 1980.
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, 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.
WDFW had lead wolf management authority in the Eastern Washington recovery region, and the USFWS had the lead role in the other two recovery regions up until January 2021. Wolves that inhabit tribal lands in the Eastern Washington recovery region are managed by those specific tribal entities. In January 2021, wolves were federally delisted from the Endangered Species Act and were managed by WDFW as a state endangered species. Then on February 10, 2022, wolves were federally relisted in the western two-thirds and USFWS resumed the lead role in the recovery of wolves in the North Cascades and the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast recovery regions. Gray wolves outside of the Northern Rocky Mountain population are now protected under the ESA as threatened in Minnesota and endangered in the remaining states. The USFWS is currently evaluating the status of gray wolves in the western U.S., including the Northern Rocky Mountains, to determine whether ESA protection is again warranted for those wolves.
Wolf Recovery and Management in 2022
Key developments in 2022 included:
- The state’s minimum year-end wolf population increased again for the 14th year in a row and as of Dec. 31, 2022, WDFW and Tribes counted 216 wolves (five percent increase) in 37 packs in Washington State. Twenty-six of these packs were successful breeding pairs. These numbers compare with the previous year’s count of 206 wolves in 33 packs and 19 breeding pairs. 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.
- Pack sizes (number of individuals in a pack) ranged from two to ten wolves. Most packs contained four to six individuals.
- Since the first WDFW survey in 2008, the state’s wolf population has grown by an average of 23% per year.
- State, federal, and tribal biologists captured 38 wolves from 17 different packs and monitored a total of 53 unique radio-collared wolves from 27 different packs in 2022.
- Eight new packs formed in 2022 including the Big Muddy pack in Klickitat County, the Napeequa and Maverick packs in Chelan County, the Chopaka and Chewuch packs in Okanogan County, the Wilmont pack on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CTCR) in Ferry County, the Five Sisters pack in Stevens County, and the Mt. Spokane pack in Spokane County.
- Two packs completely disbanded in 2022 (likely due to mortalities) including Nason pack in Ferry County and the Skookum pack in Pend Orielle County.
- Four areas were documented with just one wolf maintaining a territory in Washington including the former Teanaway pack area, former Beaver Creek pack area, former Diobsud Creek pack area, and a new area near Sprague.
- Twelve wolves were documented dispersing from their pack territories in 2022.
- Each year’s population total reflects population losses and population gains. WDFW documented 37 wolf mortalities during 2022 (Table 1), including six removed by the Department in response to wolf-livestock conflict, three killed in caught in the act of depredating on livestock, seven of natural causes (two killed by cougars, one killed by a moose, one killed by other wolves, two of old age, and one pup that died from malnutrition), one unknown, 11 legally harvested by tribal hunters (one by the Spokane Tribe and ten by CTCR hunters), and nine mortalities from unlawful take still under investigation.
- Wolf populations are managed to ensure progress toward the recovery goals established in WDFW’s 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. 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 determined fifteen cattle (primarily calves) and two sheep were confirmed killed by wolves, and one was probably killed by wolves. Also, nine cattle were confirmed as injured and two were probably injured by wolves in 2022 by seven packs. Nineteen percent of known packs were involved in at least one confirmed livestock depredation. Only three packs (eight percent of the packs) were involved in two or more depredations. Eighty-one percent of known packs were not involved in any known livestock depredation (including probable depredations) even though many of the pack territories overlap livestock operations.
- During calendar year 2022, WDFW spent a total of $1,632,569 on wolf management activities, including $56,788 in reimbursement to 26 livestock producers for Damage Prevention Cooperative Agreements – Livestock (DPCA-L) non-lethal conflict prevention expenses (range riding, specialized lighting and fencing, etc.), $231,708 for 16 contracted range riders, $8,178 for direct claims for livestock losses caused by wolves in 2021 but paid in 2022, $6,249 for indirect claims for livestock loses in 2021 but paid in 2022, $119,541 for lethal removal operations in response to depredations on livestock, and $1,210,105 for wolf management and research activities.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Spokane Tribe of Indians, Yakama Nation, Swinomish Tribe, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2023. Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2022 Annual Report. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Ellensburg, WA, USA.