Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2023 Annual Report


Published: April 20, 2024

Pages: 50

Author(s): A cooperative effort by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Spokane Tribe of Indians, Yakama Nation, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This report presents information on the status, distribution, and management of wolves in the State of Washington from Jan. 1, 2023 through Dec. 31, 2023.

Executive Summary


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 a resident pack was documented in Okanogan County. Since then, the number of wolves has increased to a minimum of 260 wolves reported in 2023. 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, and increasing numbers are present in Okanogan, Chelan, and Kittitas counties in the Northern Cascades Recovery area. Although the first pack to recolonize the South Cascades and Northwest Coast recovery region only had one wolf during the year end counts in 2023, we have observed multiple collared wolves cross I-90 in the last year, which likely means it is only a matter of time before new packs begin to establish in that recovery 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 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 protected under the ESA as threatened in Minnesota and endangered in the remaining states.

USFWS conducted an extensive peer-reviewed assessment using the best available data from federal, state, and tribal sources, academic institutions, and the public. On February 2, 2024, USFWS announced that the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment (DPS) is not a listable entity because it is not markedly separate from other wolf populations and is therefore not warranted for listing. They found that the Western United States is a listable entity; however, the DPS does not meet the definition of threatened or endangered. This finding was not action-forcing thus the legal status of wolves did not change as a result of this finding. Additionally, on February 2, 2024, USFWS announced that they will develop a national Recovery Plan for wolves in the lower 48 states for the first time.

Wolf Recovery and Management in 2023

Key developments in 2023 included:

  • The state’s minimum year-end wolf population increased again for the 15th year in a row. As of Dec. 31, 2023, WDFW and Tribes counted 260 wolves (20% increase) in 42 packs in Washington State. Twenty-five of these packs were successful breeding pairs. These numbers compare with the previous year’s count of 216 wolves in 37 packs and 26 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 eleven 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 33 wolves from 22 different packs and monitored a total of 52 unique radio-collared wolves from 25 different packs and 3 single wolf territories in 2023.
  • Six new packs formed or reestablished in 2023 including Beaver Creek pack in Okanogan County, the Skookum pack in Pend Oreille County, Ruby pack in Stevens County and the Dollar Mountain, Nason, and Scatter packs in Ferry County that overlap portions of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CTCR).
  • The Smackout pack completely disbanded in 2023 (likely due to mortality) in Stevens County.
  • Three areas were documented with just one wolf maintaining a territory in Washington including the former Teanaway pack area, the former Naneum pack area, and the former Big Muddy pack area.
  • Eleven wolves were documented dispersing from their pack territories in 2023. This represents 21% of the collared wolves monitored during the calendar year.
  • Each year’s population total reflects population losses and population gains. WDFW documented 36 wolf mortalities during 2023 (Table 1), including two removed by the Department in response to wolf-livestock conflict, five killed by vehicles, one killed caught in the act of depredating on livestock, one of natural causes (killed by a cougar), one unknown, 22 legally harvested by tribal hunters (CTCR hunters), and four 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 documented 23 depredation events and determined ten cattle (primarily calves) and two miniature donkeys were confirmed killed by wolves, and three cattle and one alpaca were probably killed by wolves. Also, seven cattle and one miniature donkey (later killed in a separate depredation event) were confirmed injured by wolves in 2023. A colt horse, one cow, and a dog were probably injured by wolves. Nine of the 42 (21%) known packs that existed in Washington at some point during 2023 were involved in at least one confirmed or probable livestock injury or mortality (Fig. 10). However, seven of the nine packs associated with livestock depredations were involved in two or less events each. Seventy-nine 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 2023, WDFW spent a total of $1,611,412 on wolf management activities, including $84,686 for Damage Prevention Cooperative Agreements for Livestock (DPCAL), $164,102 for Contracted Range Riders, $28,596 for livestock loss claims, $31,602 for lethal removal operations in response to depredations on livestock, and $1,302,426 for wolf management and research activities.

Suggested citation

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Spokane Tribe of Indians, Yakama Nation, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2024. Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2023 Annual Report. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Ellensburg, WA, USA. 

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