Wolves were formerly common throughout most of the state, but declined rapidly because of trapping, poisoning, and hunting as ranching and farming by European-American settlers expanded between 1850 and 1900. By the 1930s, wolves were considered eradicated from the state. Infrequent reports of animals continued in the following decades, suggesting that individuals continued to disperse into Washington from neighboring states and British Columbia.
Wolves are protected with legal status under the federal Endangered Species Act and under state law in Washington. There have been no federal or state actions to reintroduce wolves into Washington. Wolves dispersed into eastern Washington and the North Cascades on their own from adjacent populations in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and British Columbia.
Dispersal into Washington
A pack with pups was confirmed in July 2008 in western Okanogan and northern Chelan counties and represented the first fully documented breeding by wolves in the state since the 1930s. Since then, the state’s wolf population has increased at an average rate of 31 percent per year, and many other wolf packs have been confirmed.
State and federal wildlife authorities continue to monitor resident wolf activity to assess population expansion across the state and learn more about habitat usage and behaviors.
See also: Assessing relatedness between wolves in Washington: Final Report (April 2019)
Wolves and human contact
Wolves are shy by nature and typically avoid human contact. As with all wildlife, wolves should never be fed or approached, as they could become habituated to people. Campsites and other areas of human occupation should be kept free of accessible garbage or food.
In the very rare chance of a close encounter with a wolf, people should take the same steps as with cougars and bears to avoid problems – stand tall, act aggressively, raise your voice or shout, don’t run, and slowly back away while facing the animal.
Wolves usually consider domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) as territorial threats and may attack and kill them. Responsible dog owners need to keep pets safe when recreating or living in wild country. Dogs should be kept on a leash or kept close by when walking or hiking in areas with wolves.
Because wolves are listed as a state and federal endangered species, it is illegal to kill, harm, or harass them. Wolf sightings and suspected wolf depredation on domestic animals should be reported to federal or state authorities who will investigate incidents and take appropriate action to resolve problems.
Conflict with livestock
Although wild wolves primarily feed on elk, deer, and moose, they have been known to occasionally prey on domestic livestock. Livestock producers can prevent or reduce the chance of such encounters by using one or more nonlethal wolf control methods.
If a livestock depredation by wolves is confirmed, the livestock owner may be eligible to receive compensation for the animal(s) lost. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) would like to work with livestock owners to help identify potential nonlethal techniques that could help protect livestock.
To report sightings of a wolf or wolf tracks, use WDFW's Online Wolf Reporting Form or call the WDFW toll free reporting hotline at 1-877-933-9847.
To report a suspected wolf depredation on livestock, contact the WDFW toll-free reporting hotline at 1-877-933-9847.