OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The wolf population in Washington state increased by an estimated 33 animals in 2020, with fewer lethal removals due to wolf-livestock conflict, according to state officials.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released its annual wolf report Friday, saying the estimated minimum wolf population grew to 178 wolves in 29 packs. In 2019, the agency estimated there were 145 wolves in 26 packs in the state.
The state found a minimum of 132 wolves in areas managed by Fish and Wildlife and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation reported an estimated 46 wolves. The state said the number of wolves, packs, and successful breeding pairs in Washington is likely higher.
“Washington wolf recovery continues to make solid progress,” state Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind said in a news release. “For the first time the North Cascades wolf recovery area has met the local recovery objective — four successful breeding pairs — during 2020.”
Thirteen breeding pairs were documented by Fish and Wildlife in 2020 while the agency documented 10 in 2019.
The state’s wolf population was almost wiped out in the 1930s, but a resident pack was documented by the state in Okanogan County in 2008 and the number of wolves has increased every year since.
In 2019, the state killed nine wolves in response to wolf-livestock conflicts. In 2020, three wolves were killed over wolf-caused livestock deaths, officials said. Most of the known wolf packs in Washington were not involved in known livestock depredation in 2020, according to the report.
“WDFW staff, and partnering producers, non-government organizations, and county officials worked hard last grazing season at reducing wolf-livestock conflict,” said Fish and Wildlife wolf policy lead Donny Martorello. He said the agency will pilot some new non-lethal tools with partners during the coming grazing season.
Four new packs formed in areas monitored by Fish and Wildlife in 2020. The Navarre Pack formed in Okanogan County, the Vulcan Pack in Ferry County, and the Onion Creek Pack in Stevens County. Wolves also reestablished in an area formerly occupied by the Skookum Pack in Pend Oreille County, according to the report.
Zoё Hanley, Northwest Representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a news release Friday the 2020 report illustrates wolves’ ability to overcome multiple obstacles imposed by people, whose resistance to sharing the landscape has created the largest impediment to wolf recovery in Washington.
“While these results indicate stable, multigenerational wolf packs and healthy native prey populations, we must focus on long-term coexistence strategies that continue to allow wolves to disperse throughout their historic range,” she said.
Since 1980, gray wolves have been listed under Washington state law as endangered. In January, wolves were federally delisted from the Endangered Species Act, which is being legally challenged by environmental groups.