By Natalie Johnson

WDFW: state’s wolf population still growing

Washington’s wolf population grew by 22% in 2020, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reported in its annual wolf count, released this month, marking 12 straight years of growth in the population.

The WDFW documented four new packs in 2020, including one in Okanogan County — the Navarre Pack, which was spotted in southwest Okanogan County south of territory occupied by the established Lookout Pack.

Two wolves were confirmed in the Navarre pack, the WDFW reported.

“Washington wolf recovery continues to make solid progress,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind in a statement. “For the first time the North Cascades wolf recovery area has met the local recovery objective — four successful breeding pairs — during 2020.”

The North Cascades region had six packs in 2020. According to the WDFW report, the region needs to maintain four successful breeding pairs for three consecutive years to meet its objectives for regional recovery of the species.

Wolves in Washington were nearly eliminated in the early 1900s. Gray wolves were placed on the federal endangered species list in 1973. They are still classified as endangered under state law. Since 2011, Washington’s wolf recovery efforts have been managed by the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. Wolves were federally delisted from the Endangered Species Act, but are still managed by the WDFW as an endangered species under state law.

Washington’s resident wolf population has been rebounding since 2008 when a pack was documented in Okanogan County.

Now, WDFW has documented a minimum of 132 wolves in areas the agency manages, according to a report released April 23, split between 24 packs. The WDFW also documented 13 successful breeding pairs. That’s up from the previous year’s count of 108 wolves in 21 packs with 10 breeding pairs.

Another 46 wolves were documented on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville reservation, in five packs.

According to WDFW, this is a minimum number of wolves counted in the past year using aerial and camera surveys and tracking, and “the actual number of wolves, packs and successful breeding pairs in Washington is likely higher.”

Mortality count

In addition to overall gains in population, WDFW documented 16 wolf mortalities. Eight were legally harvested by tribal hunters, one was killed by a vehicle, two died of natural causes, one was shot because it was a threat to humans, three were killed in response to livestock predation and one died of unknown causes.

“We’re happy to see this increase in our state’s wolf population, but Washington officials still need to stop killing these amazing animals,” said Sophia Ressler, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The necessary dispersal to reach full recovery will never occur if the state continues killing wolves in the same place year after year.”

Seven packs were involved in livestock predation in 2020, leaving 79% of packs that didn’t pursue livestock, the WDFW reported.

“WDFW staff, and partnering producers, non-government organizations, and county officials worked hard last grazing season at reducing wolf-livestock conflict,” said WDFW wolf policy lead Donny Martorello. “This coming grazing season we will pilot some newly innovated non-lethal tools and are working with producers, range riders and landowners on action plans for deploying them.”

The Center for Biological Diversity also reported that nearby states, including Montana and Idaho, were pursuing legislation to kill wolves, which could threaten dispersal of wolves from those states into Washington and from Washington into those states.

“The Department of Fish and Wildlife deserves credit for killing fewer wolves this year,” said Ressler. “But neighboring states are pushing massive wolf-killing bills and no wolves have made it to Washington’s third recovery zone, so it’s critical that our officials find and implement alternatives to killing wolves.”

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