Wolf recovery continues in Washington, state now home to at least 27 packs including in North Cascades

Wolf recovery continues in Washington, state now home to at least 27 packs including in North Cascades

Conservation Northwest / Apr 04, 2019 / Restoring Wildlife, Wolves


We are pleased to see that for the tenth year in a row, and 11 years since the Lookout Pack was established in 2008, Washington’s wolf population grew in 2018, including increases in the number of confirmed packs and successful breeding pairs; important metrics for state recovery goals.

A wolf from the Diobsud Pack in Western Washington near North Cascades National Park. Photo: WDFW

“After years of reports of wolves in Western Washington, we are particularly excited by the confirmation of the first wolf pack west of the Cascade Crest in nearly a century, the Diobsud Pack near North Cascades National Park,” said Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest Executive Director. “This is a milestone worth celebrating, and a clear indication of the continued recovery of wolves in our state.”

“It’s important to keep in mind that these annual wolf reports from the state represent a minimum number,” said Friedman. “Individual wolves are incredibly hard to document as they expand to new areas, and our state’s total wolf population is certainly higher than this baseline count. Given recent research by the University of Washington, we can be confident that in actuality more than 150 wolves roam Washington today.”

Map of confirmed 2018 wolf packs below. Watch a timelapse video showing pack expansion over the past eight years here! Or learn about the science on wolf-livestock conflict.

A map of confirmed Washington wolf packs as of December 31, 2018. See presentation for more. Map: WDFW.

Check out charts and graphs showing wolf recovery in Washington below!

Or view this information as an infographic (PDF). 

Conflict, lethal removal lower than other states

As welcome as this good news is, Conservation Northwest remains concerned about the absence of confirmed wolf packs in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast Recovery Zone. There have been reports of wolves and documented tracks in the Cascade Mountains south of I-90 for several years, but packs have yet to be confirmed in this area of high-quality habitat.

“Innovative research by Dr. Samuel Wasser and his colleagues at the UW’s Center for Conservation Biology is underway working to document the presence of wolves in Washington’s South Cascades,” said Friedman. “We hope that state funding for this important work will continue so that these biologists and their scat-sniffing dogs can assess the situation this coming field season.”

The state’s annual wolf report summary also indicates that only four wolves, less than three percent of the state’s total population, were killed by wildlife managers after chronic conflicts with livestock. At 11 years into Washington’s wolf recovery, this represents a much lower level of mortality from state lethal removal than what was seen in other Western states at similar points in wolf recovery.

In comparison, when the Northern Rocky Mountain States of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming were 11 years into wolf recovery, lethal control for livestock depredations amounted to 142 wolves or 12 percent of their total minimum wolf count.

Through our Range Rider Pilot Project and other efforts, we’ve spent significant money and effort working with local ranchers to reduce conflicts and promote coexistence between people and wolves.

“While the loss of wolves to persistent conflicts with livestock is always unfortunate, Washingtonians should be proud that our state’s investments in collaboration and non-lethal conflict prevention are paying off, with wolf recovery continuing and very few wolves being killed as a result of conflicts,” said Friedman.

“Washington continues to have a science-based Wolf Conservation & Management Plan and a constructive Wolf Advisory Group that’s finding common-ground and responsible paths forward for both wolves and people through dialogue between wolf advocates, hunters, ranchers, farmers, recreationists and other wildlife stakeholders.”

“Our goal has always been to make Washington the state where wolf recovery works; for wolves, other native wildlife and local communities,” Friedman said. “We believe the continued recovery of wolves, the very low rate of lethal removal, and increased use of non-lethal conflict avoidance methods to protect livestock and small businesses is all showing Washington is well on its way to that goal.”

However, three of 2018’s wolf removals were in northeast Washington’s Kettle River Mountain Range. This area continues to be a chronic hotspot of conflict where both lethal removal of wolves and cattle losses cause great social angst. Conservation Northwest is continuing to work in the field through its Range Rider Pilot Project, in partnership with the local grassroots Northeast Washington Wolf Cattle Collaborative, with the Department, and on the WAG, to improve the quality and fit of proactive deterrents in this landscape. And to make the state’s Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol more responsive to reduce loss of both wolves and livestock.

More on our work for conservation and coexistence

A regional non-profit organization, Conservation Northwest has been actively engaged in wolf recovery and conservation in Washington for well over a decade. In 2008 the group discovered the first wolf pups born back in the state in nearly a century—the Lookout Pack in the Methow Valley. The organization played an active role in the formation and approval of Washington’s science-based Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (Wolf Plan) in 2011, and has long participated in the state’s Wolf Advisory Group (WAG), represented by Policy Director Paula Swedeen, Ph.D.

In addition to advocating for wolf conservation and management policies that further long-term recovery and acceptance alongside thriving local communities, the organization leads the Range Rider Pilot Project, a collaborative effort with Eastern Washington ranches, now in its ninth year, to implement non-lethal conflict avoidance measures that reduce or prevent depredations on livestock.

Conservation Northwest also offers standing rewards of up to $10,000 to bring wolf poachers to justice, works with hunting groups and others to increase tolerance for native carnivores, and supports research on the expansion of wolves in Washington and potential effects on other native wildlife populations, including deer, elk, moose and mountain caribou.

Learn more in the state’s presentation on it’s 2018 Annual wolf report, or watch our TIMELAPSE VIDEO of wolf pack growth.
A gray wolf on an old forest road in Washington. Photo: WDFW