Gray wolves historically roamed across the state but were eradicated in Washington by 1930s. In recent decades wolves have been migrating back to the state from Canada, Idaho and Oregon. John and Karen Hollingsworth/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Gray wolves historically roamed across the state but were eradicated in Washington by 1930s. In recent decades wolves have been migrating back to the state from Canada, Idaho and Oregon. John and Karen Hollingsworth/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Gray wolves could soon return to native territory in Western Washington

As territory in Eastern Washington fills up, the Cascades may prove a home for the state’s wolves.

Monitoring a returning wolf population has been a priority of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, and if biologists’ predictions are correct, King County may see gray wolves in the future.

Fish and Wildlife biologist and wolf manager Ben Maletzke gave a presentation on wolf populations on April 16 at an Upper Snoqualmie Valley Elk Management Group meeting in North Bend. Wolves have been returning to the state since at least 2008 after being eradicated by humans in the early 20th Century. According to Conservation Northwest, the last wolves in the state were killed in the 1930s on the Olympic Peninsula. Since the 1990s, wolves have been returning on their own as they cross the borders from British Columbia, Idaho and Oregon.

“All the wolves that are here in Washington walked in here themselves,” Maletzke said.

There are at least 122 wolves in the state comprising 22 known packs. Three conservation zones exist, which the state uses to study wolf packs. One is the Eastern zone encompassing everything east of Highway 97. This is where 106 of the known wolves are, with many concentrated in the northeast corner of the state above Spokane.

The North Cascades zone stretches from roughly north of Interstate 90 and west of Hwy 97. The Southern Cascades zone includes southwest Washington and the Olympic Peninsula. There are no known packs in southwest Washington or the peninsula, but three exist in the North Cascades. The Teanaway pack is the closest to King County living near Cle Elum. It has at least eight wolves and one breeding pair compared to 13 breeding pairs to the east.

Breeding pairs are a male and female couple who have at least two pups that survive until the end of a calendar year. The state tracks packs through 16 collared wolves from 11 different packs as they move around their roughly 350 square-mile territories. While these pairs often have between four to seven pups, attrition rates are high.

“They have a lot of pups, but they don’t always make it through the year,” Maletzke said.

This is primarily due to pups being shot, hit by cars or killed by other predators like cougars.

Wolves are protected by state law in all parts of Washington but were recently federally de-listed as an endangered species in Eastern Washington. In both western zones, they are still federally endangered.

However, as unclaimed land in Eastern Washington reaches dwindles, Maletzke expects to see more packs pop up in the North Cascades as the animals search for territory.

At around three years of age, wolves strike out on their own in search of a place to call home. They can range hundreds of miles, and in one case, a collared wolf from Eastern Washington strolled all the way down to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. If packs become to large they can break apart or if they are hunted, they often disperse.

The western foothills of the Cascades could become home to wolf packs due to a lack of currently existing populations and plenty of mule deer and elk, Maletzke said.

The Everett Herald reported that the state has given the University of Washington $172,000 to see if wolves are recolonizing a 5,000 square kilometer area in the south Cascades region and how this could impact the predator-prey dynamics. Fish and Wildlife is additionally getting $183,000 to study if relocating wolves would help recovery.

Wolves have been the topic of heated debate in some parts of the state after two packs were culled by Fish and Wildlife in both 2016 and 2017 following a string of livestock killings in northeast Washington. Both the Sherman and Profanity Peak packs were hunted and the remaining wolves dispersed.

These packs were located next to each west of Kettle Falls. The Profanity Peak pack attacked or killed more than 15 livestock. In order to take lethal action, the same pack must kill three livestock in 30 days, or four livestock in four months. Washington wolves killed eight livestock in 2017, down from a high of 30 in 2014. It is unknown why these packs began attacking livestock in northeast Washington, but Maletzke said it was likely a combination of open-grazing, which allows cattle to roam forestland, as well as a possible lack of other game for the wolves.

The Department of Natural Resources and the federal Forest Service issue grazing permits and dictate where livestock can graze, which Fish and Wildlife can’t change.

The Seattle Times reported last June that ranchers in eastern Washington have been stressed over the influx of wolves as cattle are attacked and killed. After the lethal removal of the Profanity Peak pack, many farmers and state officials became victims of harassment and death threats. It is unclear if wolf packs will encroach into more urban cattle farms in western Washington, many of which are relatively close to large cities.

Maletzke said the Department of Fish and Wildlife tries a variety of tactics to scare wolves off if they are attacking livestock before they lethally remove them. Some $600,000 is spent annually on educating farmers on ways to keep their livestock safe. Ranchers are also eligible for financial compensation for livestock killed by wolves.

Wolves rarely attack humans, preferring to run rather than fight.

“There’s very few interactions with people and wolves,” Maletzke said.

As with most wildlife, Maletzke cautioned residents to keep food sources locked up to decrease the chance of dangerous encounters. He added that Fish and Wildlife also appreciate reports of sightings, tracks or wolf scat.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

Courtesy image
Snoqualmie River bridge will be closed May 10 to 14

A paving project along State Route 202 will begin with closures on… Continue reading

A concept photo of the North Bend hotel. Provided by North Bend
Hotel could be in the works for North Bend

The plan was confirmed during a March 28 State of the Cities address.

Governor Jay Inslee. Sound Publishing file photo
New laws will tax the rich, offer aid to low-income workers

Inslee signs bill creating capital gains tax; foes are challenging it in court as unconstitutional.

Mouth of the Raging River where it flows into the Snoqualmie River, just east of the Fall City Bridge, on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by William Shaw
King County launches study on Snoqualmie River levee and more

King County will be conducting a study this year to identify levees… Continue reading

Remi Frederick, a Village Green employee receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Jan. 26 in Federal Way. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
King County positive COVID cases are beginning to fall

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in King County is beginning to… Continue reading

Washington state case count since March 2020. WA Governor's Office
Pandemic pause: King County remains in Phase 3

No Washington state counties will be rolling back their phase under the… Continue reading

Courtesy of Washington Military Department
Washington gets mobile earthquake alerts

Washington state will have its own earthquake early warning system on May… Continue reading

The state must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10% below 2017 levels by 2028. By 2035, emissions must be below 20% of 2017 levels. The clean fuels program is scheduled to begin by Jan 1, 2023, provided the Legislature passes a transportation-spending package by then. File photo
State lawmakers approve key climate and environmental legislation

Bills target clean fuel standards and carbon emissions.

North Bend City Hall. Courtesy of northbendwa.gov
May 4 public hearing scheduled for North Bend water rate increases

North Bend will be holding a public hearing to receive input on… Continue reading

Most Read