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Frequently asked questions about wolves

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Wolves are native to Washington; they are returning under their own power; as top predators they help keep ungulate populations in balance with available habitat; the state is planning how best to manage their return.

Adapted from the WA Depart. of Fish and Wildlife's frequently asked questions and their fact sheet on gray wolf conservation & management
1-888-584-9038 Wolf Poaching Hotline

Wolf by Ashley Hockenberry

1. Why are wolves important to Washington?

Wolves are native to Washington and part of our state’s wildlife heritage. They were eliminated by the 1930s and are now returning to the state on their own. As a top predator, wolves naturally help keep wild elk, deer, and moose populations in balance with available habitat. Recovering this Endangered species will help return an important missing element of Washington’s complex of carnivores.

2. Won’t wolves eat too many elk and deer?

This generally hasn’t happened in other states. Deer and elk populations have remained stable, except in some areas where elk face other threats in addition to wolves. However, when wolves are present, deer and elk may change their behavior and spend more time in the forest and at higher elevations where they are not seen by hunters – leading to a misconception that they have disappeared.

  • 2015 findings by WDFW biologists have shown that deer, elk and moose populations remain healthy and growing in most areas of Washington state, including those now occupied by confirmed wolf packs. 

3. How do we keep wolves from eating livestock?

Some wolves in some areas have learned that livestock can be easy prey. Range riders, wolf-targeted fencing, night penning, guarding and herding animals, and removing carcasses can help reduce depredation but are not permanent solutions. Wolf depredation Q & A

4. How have wolves been returning to Washington?

Wolves are returning naturally from populations in nearby states and provinces. They were never reintroduced or transplanted in Washington state.

5. Do land use restrictions accompany the return of wolves?

As habitat generalists, wolves can adapt to living in many kinds of habitat. Land-use restrictions are not needed and none have been implemented. Wolf dens, where pups are born, are protected by law from disturbance when occupied, just like songbird nests.

6. I think I saw a wolf, but how do I know for sure?

Wild wolves are few in number and usually stay away from people. Coyotes are abundant and somewhat bold. It's possible you saw a coyote. They are smaller than wolves, about a half to a third the size (though this is hard to tell at a distance), with narrower snout, and tall, pointed ears. Large dogs and wolf-dog hybrids can also be mistaken for wolves, although they usually act more familiar with people, have tails that curl upward or are wearing collars. Learn more about identifying wolves here.

7. I know I saw a wolf, so where do I report it?

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service keep track of wolf sightings and other evidence (tracks, scat, howling, photos from motion-sensitive remote cameras). The best way to make a report is online here or through the toll-free reporting hotline, 1-888-584-9038.

Elk copyright Dave Moskowitz

8. Do wolves attack people?

Attacks by wild wolves on people are almost nonexistent in North America. Wild wolves generally fear and avoid people. In the past 60 years, there have been two wolf-caused human fatalities in North America; both occurred in Canada and Alaska. There have been no physical attacks on people by wolves in Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming from the time wolf recovery began in the 1980s until the present.

9. Do wolves attack dogs?

Yes. Wolves view dogs as competitors or territorial intruders and have attacked and killed them, especially in remote areas. Owners of dogs need to aware of the potential risk to their dogs if they are in wolf habitat. Owners also need to take responsibility for their dogs in areas where wolves live, keeping them controlled and not letting them run wild or unattended. Packs of domestic dogs are known to get into all kinds of trouble - including  harassing, attacking, and killing livestock.

10. How many wolves are in Washington now?

Washington's wolf population has continued to grow, according to a statewide survey conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2014. The survey confirmed the presence of at least 68 wolves in 16 wolf packs with a total of 5 successful breeding pairs by the end of the 2014 year. Wildlife managers emphasize that the actual number of wolves in the state is likely higher than those confirmed by the survey. The survey is not designed to account for every wolf within the state, but rather to monitor the species' progress toward recovery.

11. Are wolves protected by law in Washington?

Washington’s small but recovering population of wolves are listed as Endangered by the state. Congress in February 2011 delisted Northern Rockies wolves, removing federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This affects the wolves in the eastern third of Washington approximately east of Highway 97 and the north-south Columbia River (for example, the Diamond and Salmo packs), which are considered part of the Northern Rockies wolf distinct population. The wolves in the Cascades were not delisted; they remain Endangered species, protected by federal (and state) law. 

12. What is Washington State's "Wolf Conservation and Management Plan" and why is it important?

A management plan is needed because wolves are naturally recolonizing Washington from neighboring states and Canadian province of British Columbia. Loss of federal Endangered species designation for wolves in eastern Washington means that the state is responsible for managing them; the plan is also required under state Endangered species law. The WDFW developed a wolf plan, working with help of a governor-appointed of stakeholders (the Wolf Working Group, including Conservation Northwest) to create strategies to achieve wolf population recovery, address and reduce conflicts with livestock, and maintain healthy deer and elk populations. The final Washington wolf plan was adopted in December 2011. It can be viewed online here

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